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Global Reporting Initiatives –An overview

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is an organization that produces a comprehensive sustainability reporting framework that is widely used around the world. It started with a vision of a sustainable global economy where organizations manage their economic, environmental, social and governance performance and impacts responsibly and report transparently. GRI has a mission to make sustainability reporting standard practice by providing guidance and support to organizations. It’s about disclosure of organization’s economic, environmental, social and governance performance in credible way and subsequently helping them to identify business risks and opportunities to the organization due to these parameters.

GRI provide framework to report organization’s sustainability performance. It is known as the sustainability reporting framework and consists of three parts – (1) Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, (2) Sector Supplements and (2) The Technical Protocol – Applying the Report Content Principles.  All it provide guidance on how organizations can disclose their sustainability performance in true manner. Organization of any size and type can use this framework to assess their performance indicators in economic, environmental, and social domain. Organization that creates their non financial report based on GRI sustainability reporting framework can be considered as credible output aligned with applicable standards and norms. Such report can be used to demonstrate organizational commitment to sustainable development. It can also qualitatively and quantitatively used to measure and compare organization performance based on environment, social and economic dimensions.

India’s stand in Global Reporting Initiatives

Considering the importance of sustainability in businesses, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India has launched Corporate Social Responsibility Voluntary Guidelines (2009). This voluntary CSR Policy addresses six core elements – Care for all Stakeholders, Ethical functioning, Respect for Workers’ Rights and Welfare, Respect for Human Rights, Respect for Environment and Activities for Social and Inclusive Development. At this stage these are voluntary guidelines, but there is a possibility of mandatory guidelines too in the near future.
TATA (Automotive) is pioneer in sustainability reporting in India. It has started reporting their sustainability performance from year 2001 based on GRI protocol.

The companies with GRI based sustainability reports in India have started accounting and then disclosing their impacts on the environment and society.  Sustainability reporting is now becoming a standard practice for global companies and If Indian companies want to be a competitive with their global counterparts; need to adopt GRI based sustainability reporting framework positively.

Global Reporting Initiatives and the environment
The GRI aims to harmonise reporting standards for all organizations, of whatever size and geographical origin, on a range of issues with the aim of elevating the status of environmental reporting with that of, for example, financial auditing. Environmental transparency is one of the main areas of business under the scope of the GRI. As outlined in this section the GRI encourages participants to report on their environmental performance using specific criteria. The standardised reporting guidelines concerning the environment are contained within the GRI Indicator Protocol Set. The Performance Indicators (PI) includes criteria on energy, biodiversity and emissions. There are 30 environmental indicators ranging from EN1 (materials used by weight) to EN30 (total environmental expenditures by type of investment).

Orientation to GRI guidelines
The Sustainability Reporting Guidelines consist of Reporting Principles, Reporting Guidance, and Standard Disclosures (including Performance Indicators). These elements are considered to be of equal in weight and importance.

Part 1-Reporting principles
Three main elements of the reporting process are described in Part 1. To help determine what to report on, this section covers the Reporting Principles of materiality, stakeholder inclusiveness, sustainability context, and completeness, along with a brief set of tests for each Principle. Application of these Principles with the Standard Disclosures determines the topics and Indicators to be reported. This is followed by Principles of balance, comparability, accuracy, timeliness, reliability, and clarity, along with tests that can be used to help achieve the appropriate quality of the reported information. This section concludes with guidance for reporting organizations on how to define the range of entities represented by the report (also called the ‘Report Boundary’).
Part 2 –Standard Disclosures
Part 2 contains the Standard Disclosures that should be included in sustainability reports. The Guidelines identify information that is relevant and material to most organizations and of interest to most stakeholders for reporting the three types of Standard Disclosures:

  •  Strategy and Profile: Disclosures that set the overall context for understanding organizational performance such as its strategy, profile, and governance.
  • Management Approach: Disclosures that cover how an organization addresses a given set of topics in order to provide context for understanding performance in a specific area.
  • Performance Indicators: Indicators that elicit comparable information on the economic,environmental, and social performance of the organization.
 The G3.1 sustainability Reporting guidelines are the latest and most complete version.G3.1 features expanded guidance on local community impacts,human rights and gender. The fourth generation of Guidelines –G4- is expected to be launched in May 2013.

Governance of the GRI
The  GRI refers to the global network of many thousands worldwide that create the Reporting Framework, use it in disclosing their sustainability performance, demand its use by organizations as the basis for information disclosure, or are actively engaged in improving the standard.

The network is supported by an institutional side of the GRI, which is made up of the following governance bodies: Board of Directors, Stakeholder Council, Technical Advisory Committee, Organizational Stakeholders, and a Secretariat. Diverse geographic and sector constituencies are represented in these governance bodies. The GRI headquarters and Secretariat is in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

The GRI was formed by the United States based non-profits Ceres (formerly the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies) and Tellus Institute, with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1997. It released an “exposure draft” version of the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines in 1999, the first full version in 2000, the second version was released at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg — where the organization and the Guidelines were also referred to in the Plan of Implementation signed by all attending member states. Later that year it became a permanent institution, with its Secretariat in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Although the GRI is independent, it remains a collaborating centre of UNEP and works in cooperation with the United Nations Global Compact.

Artilce Contributed by Rajalekshmi R
(rajalekhsmi@artismc.com), Team Artis