October 25, 2016

New GRI Standards Released

Some of you who follow sustainability news may have seen last week’s news about the “new” GRI Standards. For all current GRI reporters, all is well – no cause for concern. For other, non-GRI sustainability reporters, there is now an exciting opportunity to gradually adapt to the well-recognized standards and declare “GRI-referenced” for partial report sections. In this short email, we’ll explain what you need to know.

In our view, the GRI Standards are a reorganization of existing G4 guidance. It does not provide anything new. However, the new format makes guidance more easy to navigate and comprehend and there is more direction on challenging areas such as “boundaries” and “context”.

GRI – the global sustainability reporting authority

Since 2000, the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Guidelines have been used by thousands of organizations in more than 90 countries to guide sustainability reporting. On October 19, 2016, GRI released the “GRI Standards”, which modify the current “GRI G4” guidelines (launched May 2013) to a set of more flexible and modular Sustainability Reporting Standards.

Moving from a de facto standard to a formal standard will allow GRI to be referenced more broadly by governments and market regulators around the world. Becoming an official standard also means there is greater clarity in language and better distinctions between “requirements”, “recommendations” and “guidance” – good news for those in charge of developing GRI reports.

New modular structure provides flexibility

The GRI Standards incorporate all key concepts and disclosures from the G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, but they clarify requirements, recommendations and guidance in shorter pieces that can be applied selectively. Companies which follow the GRI Standards will continue to state “In accordance with GRI”.

The modular approach will also be helpful for the Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB), GRI’s newly-formed standard-setting body, as it updates the reporting guidance over time. Instead of issuing new versions of the (200-page or so) guidelines and implementation manual, only select pieces need updates. 

Implication for reporters

The GRI Standards are required for all GRI sustainability reporters publishing as of July 1, 2018.

Reporters transitioning from G4

For organizations already reporting in accordance with G4 Guidelines, the impacts on the reporting process are minor. No new topics have been added, key concepts such as Reporting Principles, Management Approach remain and most disclosures from G4 carry over.

Reporters transitioning from G3 or G3.1

If your organization is transitioning from G3.1, you have two options. You can either align select sections of your sustainability report and declare “GRI-referenced” OR if you desire to report “in accordance” with GRI, you need to go through the same step as you would have in moving to G4 – consult with internal and external stakeholders to define material topics and provide information about management approach and performance for each of these. For information on the evolution from G3.1 to the content used in G4/GRI Standards, we suggest consulting this article.

Your pathway to GRI Standards reporting

Current reporting status     Steps to GRI Standards
In accordance with G4
  1. Identify the (minor) changes in disclosures using GRI “transition document”
  2. Report on required organizational and business information
  3. Relabel and rearrange overlapping disclosures; re-organize GRI table
G3.1 compliant report
  1. Engage stakeholders and conduct materiality analysis
  2. Win internal support for more comprehensive disclosures (G3.1 versus GRI Standards)
  3. Report on required organizational and business information
  4. Relabel and rearrange overlapping disclosures; construct GRI table
Non-GRI report
  1. Adopt select GRI Standards modules OR
  2. Engage stakeholders and conduct materiality analysis
  3. Report on required organizational and business information outlined by the Standards

The team at Quinn & Partners is well versed in sustainability reporting, GRI Standards and integrated reporting. For current clients, we will raise the new sustainability reporting opportunities with you in our ongoing advisory services. For new clients, please get in touch to discuss sustainability reporting and the GRI Standards.