The GRI Process: Not Just a Reporting Framework

Jun 13, 2011 10:00 AM ET

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) was first established in 1997 by CERES, a nonprofit organization that leads a national coalition of investors, environmental organizations and public interest groups that work with companies to address sustainability challenges such as climate change and water scarcity. CERES was founded in 1989 by a small group of investors in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and has been working for more than 20 years to incorporate best practices into the daily operations of businesses across the world.

The GRI has since evolved and grown, beginning as a division of CERES before establishing itself as an independent entity in 2001. The GRI reporting guidelines have gone through three iterations, with the fourth currently in development. While the GRI reporting framework is primarily a tool for producing a sustainability report, the process itself is just that – a process. More specifically, it is a management process.

Since becoming the first certified training partner in the U.S. of the GRI, BrownFlynn has conducted many training sessions in a variety of forms on the GRI Process. Often we find ourselves clarifying the misconception that the five-step Process’ sole purpose is to produce a report. While that is the end result much of the time, the GRI Process is intended to be a management tool for companies to organize their people, processes and data (especially around sustainability) to become more effective and efficient.

Not only that, but it is a beneficial tool for identifying areas of improvement, innovation and/or implementation. Many times organizations do not realize they have gaps or even complete absence of protocols around basic operational tasks. Further, the Process is cyclical – it is not supposed to end at ‘Communicate’. It is an ongoing engagement with the stakeholders of your organization, constantly soliciting feedback on the most important and relevant issues, and indentifying areas of opportunity for the organization to better manage its impacts and become a leader in its industry.

What makes GRI unique and translatable across all countries and sectors is that it is a network-based organization whose reporting framework is developed through a consensus-seeking, multi-stakeholder process. Everyone from academics, business, civil society, labor and professional institutions have a say in how the framework is structured and interpreted. This open and inclusive process allows the development of the reporting framework to be continuously improved upon and expanded, as trends and knowledge in the sustainability field evolve.

Recently GRI issued a call to action for individuals and organizations to get involved in the development of the G4 guidelines. GRI is asking its network, as well as the public, for input on new topics to be covered in the next iteration of the reporting guidelines. BrownFlynn encourages you to make your voice heard. For more information and register for the first public comment period, please click here.