GRI Conference Report

On the eve of Memorial Day weekend, here is some relevant reading from Marcy Murninghan.  As many of you know, the GRI just completed its biennial conference, and by all accounts, it was magnificent.  Some highlights:

  • During the Opening Plenary, GRI’s Chief Executive Ernst Ligteringen outlined two goals for the next decade. Firstly, GRI proposes that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting should become a general practice to help markets and society take informed and responsible decisions. GRI advocates that by 2015 all large and medium-sized companies in OECD countries and fast-growing emerging economies should be required to report publicly on their ESG performance, or if they don’t, explain why.
  • Secondly, GRI proposes that ESG reporting and financial reporting need to converge over the coming decade. GRI advocates that a standard for integrated reporting should be defined, tested and adopted by 2020. GRI is working with leading global organizations in financial markets, accounting, corporate responsibility, ESG reporting, and civil society to establish the International Integrated Reporting Committee. The committee’s purpose is to promote integrated reporting, and to facilitate and coordinate collaboration between key institutions to develop an integrated reporting standard.
  • On Wednesday, the public comment period has opened for thematic revisions to three content areas – Community, Gender, and Human Rights – and will continue through 23rd August.  These revisions will make GRI’s current G3 Guidelines more relevant, transparent, and specific, without adding extra complexity to the reporting process. The G3.1 revisions are available for public comment for 90 days.  The recommendations have been developed by three different international multi-stakeholder Working Groups with representatives from a range of organizations and a diverse number of geographies including among others Australia, Brazil, Chile, Denmark, India, Mongolia, South Africa, the UK, and the USA. Sustainability reporting practitioners and their stakeholders are encouraged to provide feedback on the G3.1 content proposals via an online public survey.
  • On Tuesday, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), KPMG Sustainability, the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) and The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) launched “Carrots and Sticks – Promoting Transparency and Sustainability,” a study on trends in voluntary and mandatory approaches to sustainability reporting. This research reveals that the regulatory landscape has substantially evolved in all parts of the world. The study Carrots and Sticks – Promoting Transparency and Sustainability investigates the latest developments in sustainability reporting and ESG (environmental, social and governance) disclosure in the regulatory field. It is the latest edition of a study initially published in 2006 to provide readers with an easy reference and overview of mandatory and voluntary approaches to sustainability reporting and assurance throughout the world. A co-production of UNEP, KPMG Sustainability, USB, and GRI, the study covers the majority of OECD countries (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) as well as emerging market countries such as Brazil, China, India and South Africa.
  • Today, the GRI and the UN Global Compact announced its new agreement to work together to advance the cause of sustainability and transparency.  Under the terms of the agreement, GRI will develop guidance regarding the Global Compact’s ten principles and issue areas to integrate centrally in a next iteration of its Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, a comprehensive framework developed to facilitate transparency and accountability for businesses and other organizations seeking to disclose their environmental and social performance. At the same time, the Global Compact will adopt the GRI Guidelines as the recommended reporting framework for the more than 5800 businesses that have joined the world’s largest corporate responsibility platform;
  • Brazilian companies swept all the Readers’ Choice Award categories, setting a high bar for the rest of the world to follow.  Congratulations to Banco do Brasil, Banco Bradesco, Vale and Natura Cosmeticos!
  • Throughout the Conference, the topic of integrated reporting predominated, as well as the use of interactive tools and social media, the ways in which XBRL technology might be linked to sustainability reporting.  These topics were featured on a number of panels and plenary sessions.  Our friends Bob Eccles and Mike Kruz were speakers, as were other members of COST US, including Ernst Ligteringen, Sean Gilbert, Mike Wallace, Aron Cramer, Laura Berry, Adam Kanzer, Peter DeSimone, Paul Freundlich, Bill Baue, and, of course, GRI co-founders Allen White and Bob Massie.  (Apologies to anyone I overlooked!)
  • Speaking of panels, on Thursday Bill Baue moderated and Laura Berry participated in a panel discussion of the use of interactive tools for stakeholder engagement.  This also was the occasion when the Harvard CSR Initiative report on The Accountability Web: Weaving Corporate Accountability and Interactive Technology was launched, which Bill and I have been working on since last July.  You can download the full report and an executive summary on the CSR Initiative website.  Special thanks to Jane Nelson, Caroline Rees, Shannon Murphy, and Bob Massie for enabling us to do this work, and helping assure it’s the best it can be!
  • Speaking of interactive technology, the Conference was covered by a number of people who used social media to provide an ongoing chronicle of events and opinion.  In the Twittersphere, at least 19 people used hashtags to report, primarily #GRIConference.  Take a look and drill deeper by following some of the individual posts for a fuller picture.  Blogs, too, provided recaps of each day, and links to other sites. This aspect of the conference experience is the tip of the virtual iceburg, as there are many ways in which digital tools can be used to extend the momentum generated, beyond the conference time-frame.  This is something my colleagues and I are working on, so stay tuned!

Marcy Murninghan was associate at the CSR Initiative at the Kennedy School’s Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government when she and Bill Baue completed the study mentioned above.  She’s currently joining with colleagues to form a consultancy, The Transition Group, to help leaders and organizations make the transition to a sustainable and just society.

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