Q&A With GRI Chief Executive Tim Mohin

Oct 4, 2017 12:00 PM ET

It’s a special occasion for GRI – celebrating 20 years of founding and shaping sustainability reporting. We talked to our Chief Executive Tim Mohin, to take stock of GRI's accomplishments over two decades, and to find out how GRI will continue pioneering in the future.

​You’ve had a vast career in corporate responsibility and have worked at several leading organizations like Intel, Apple, and the Environmental Protection Agency before joining GRI this year. Based on your experience, how would you summarize the growth of sustainability reporting over the past two decades, and GRI’s role in this? 

The practice of disclosing sustainability information leads to increased transparency. Transparency is crucial for building a better world, because it paves the way for more informed decisions that support environmentally-friendly and inclusive economic growth. As the pioneer of sustainability reporting, I can safely say that GRI has been right at the helm, leading this effort of increasing corporate transparency.

GRI has also evolved its reporting framework over the years, corresponding with how our collective understanding of sustainability issues has evolved. For example, our interpretation of sustainability has expanded to include several topics that affect the long-term viability of the socio-economic fabric of our world – topics such as human rights and anti-corruption, to name a few. During this period, leading companies have also evolved to hold themselves accountable for an ever-wider range of impacts. The sustainability reporting process initially began with in-depth reporting about impacts within the four walls of the business, but it has progressively expanded to include impacts outside of the business, such as within value chains, among consumers and within communities affected by business operations. GRI has played an indispensable role in this evolution.

How would you characterize GRI’s impact since its inception 20 years ago?

When GRI was first set up as an independent, non-profit organization, it began with just 12 employees. We now employ just under 100 people, but the scale of our impact is many times more if we’re talking about direct engagement, and is probably in the millions if we take into account all of the indirect impacts on society, the global economy and the environment that result from organizations using GRI reporting to inform their decision-making.

Thanks in large part to GRI’s work, thousands of organizations in more than 100 countries now disclose information on their most important sustainability impacts. This has yielded countless benefits for businesses, their stakeholders, the economy and our global society. Since its inception, GRI has helped more than 7200 organizations use its reporting framework to disclose their sustainability impacts, and has trained more than 30,000 professionals to establish a sustainability reporting process. In fact, the KPMG survey on corporate reporting shows that 74% of the world’s largest 250 companies use GRI’s reporting framework. Many of these companies have revenues larger than GDPs of entire nations, and supply chains that span the globe. Once you bring all of these affected stakeholders under the lens, you begin to get a greater grip on the scale of GRI’s impact. 

Evolution in sustainability reporting has been one of GRI’s priorities since the very beginning. Now that we’ve developed and launched the GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (GRI Standards), what will be some of the next areas that GRI will focus on?

We’re one year on from the launch of the GRI Standards, and we’ve already seen them being used by pioneering companies around the world in their reporting process. We’ve held 28 Standards launch events in 25 countries, meeting with almost 3,400 people, during the last year. 

The GRI Standards represent the global best practice in sustainability reporting, and now that we’re well on our way to introducing reporters worldwide to the standards, we will continue building on our 20 years of growth. One of the things we have always focused on and will continue to focus on is catalyzing the evolution of sustainability reporting, so that organizations can use the practice more effectively. As I mentioned earlier, our collective understanding of sustainability has developed over time to include ever more topics and issues that are affecting our global society and economy. We believe this trend will continue and will require continuous innovation in sustainability reporting. At GRI we are uniquely positioned to support this process through our standards and multi-stakeholder network, and going forward, we will focus on improving the quality of sustainability reporting, providing preliminary reporting guidance on sustainability topics that are new in the corporate reporting field. We will also be working on increasing reporting among small and medium-sized enterprises, and promoting harmonization in the corporate reporting landscape.

Can you expand a bit more on these focus areas? For instance, how will GRI focus on further improving the quality and uptake of reporting?

Currently we’re seeing a major transformation in how we present, access and consume data. But we still see many organizations producing sustainability reports that are dense with information and run up to 100 pages in length. This is not the future of reporting, because reporting in this way will not produce change on the scale needed.

In order to be more impactful, reporting needs to be concise, consistent, comparable and current. Brevity and consistency are key to successfully managing and understanding the insights delivered by the reported data. Comparability, in turn, ensures that organizations are able to track and assess their impacts, and then make decisions that will improve these impacts over time. And if the reported topics and information are not current, then the decisions they feed into will lose their relevance.

Our goal at GRI is to make sure that the reported sustainability data is decision-useful, timely and relevant to all of a company’s stakeholders. To this end, we will conduct research and engage with various stakeholders on different sustainability issues, particularly those that have not yet been included in reporting frameworks, to increase our understanding of their impacts on the economy and society. We will continue engaging with national and international policymakers to foster smart sustainability regulations, and to encourage more small and medium-sized businesses to begin reporting. We will also work together with leading corporate reporting organizations to reduce the reporting burden and tackle the confusion among companies about the proliferation of different reporting frameworks. These are just some of the priorities with which we will be embarking on the next decade of our work here at GRI.