Global Reporting Initiative

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Logo of Global Reporting Initiative

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a non-profit organization that promotes economic sustainability. It produces one of the world's most prevalent standards for sustainability reporting — also known as ecological footprint reporting, environmental social governance (ESG) reporting, triple bottom line (TBL) reporting, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting. GRI seeks to make sustainability reporting by all organizations as routine as financial reporting.

A sustainability report is an organizational report that gives information about economic, environmental, social and governance performance.[1]

GRI Guidelines are regarded to be widely used. More than 4,000 organizations [2] from 60 countries use the Guidelines to produce their sustainability reports. (View the world’s reporters at the GRI Sustainability Disclosure Database.) GRI Guidelines apply to corporate businesses, public agencies, smaller enterprises, NGOs, industry groups and others. For municipal governments, they have generally been subsumed by similar guidelines from the UN ICLEI.

Global Reporting Initiative and the environment[edit]

Environmental reporting guidelines[edit]

Lisa French, Director, Sustainability Reporting Framework, Global Reporting Initiative (left)

The Log aims to harmonise reporting standards for all organizations, of whatever size and geographical origin,[3] on a range of issues with the aim of elevating the status of environmental reporting with that of, for example, financial auditing.[4] 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).[5]

GRI and environmental governance[edit]

The GRI is an example of an organization that acts outside of the top-down power command structures associated with government (e.g., quasi-autonomous bodies and regulators). Environmental governance is the multifaceted and multilayered nature of "governing" the borderless and state-indiscriminate natural environment.[6] Unlike major protected policy areas such as finance or defence, the environment requires sovereign states to sign up to treaties and multilateral agreements in order to coordinate action. Sustainability reporting is a more recent concept that encourages businesses and institutions to report on their environmental performance.[7]

Sustainability reporting is, by definition, a way in which organisations assess their own environmental accomplishments and failings, reflect on this performance and subsequently transfer this information into the public domain. This broad concept has been theoretically termed ‘reflexive environmental law’ by some academics. Reflexive environmental law is an approach in which industry is encouraged to ‘self-reflect’ and ‘self-criticise’ the environmental externalities that result as a product of their activity, and thus act on these negative social impacts in a way that dually safeguards growth and protects the environment.[8] There is also concern that the "exponential demand for disclosure", as described by Park et al. 2008, undermines the legitimacy and prestige of the GRI. It is, in other words, operating in a saturated market counting on businesses to volunteer their information to competing agencies. More recent organisations include the Carbon Disclosure Project which has similar aims.[9]

Governance of the GRI[edit]

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, Netherlands.

GRI Data Partners[edit]

GRI’s Data Partners collect and process information about GRI reporting and sustainability reporting in general. They regularly share data with GRI about reports and reporting organizations, and also serve as on-the-ground hubs, identifying reporting trends in their countries and regions. The report and organization related information provided by Data Partners is added to GRI's Sustainability Disclosure Database.[10]

The GRI data partners' analysis of reports show an increase in GRI reporting worldwide. The official GRI data partner in The United States, The United Kingdom and The Republic of Ireland — The Governance & Accountability Institute,[11] releases data tracking frequency and other aspects of GRI reporting in the benchmark S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies.[12]


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, Netherlands. Although the GRI is independent, it remains a collaborating centre of UNEP and works in cooperation with the United Nations Global Compact.

Criticisms of GRI and the GRI Guidelines[edit]

A common criticism of GRI and the GRI guidelines are that the focus is on more reporting, not better reporting or more usable or actionable reporting. GRI's focus has been to continually get governments and stock exchanges to require more organisations around the world to produce sustainability reports, preferably with using the GRI guidelines. The focus on quantity over quality supports the value of GRI's brand but has also resulted many reports that are little more than public relations efforts.

GRI allows reporters to self-declare that they are A, B or C level reporters.[13] The distinction between the letter grades is based on the number of indicators a company choses to report, so C reporter can only report against 10 key performance indicators from the GRI guidelines while an A level reporter should report about 50 indicators. Linking more reporting—of information which may or may not be material in nature to a given organisation—to a better grade is another way that GRI has driven quantity of reporting over quality.

Data quality and audit and assurance of non-financial accounting practices is not a primary focus of GRI. Non-financial audit or assurance is not a required part of reporting in accordance with the GRI guidelines. In addition, while GRI prides itself on its multi-stakeholder approach, investors were not invited to participate in the creation of the guidelines until recently.

While GRI pushes for more reporting, they have done little to increase or even assess the impact of existing sustainability reports. While sustainability reporting is intended to make economic development sustainable in light of planatary limits, in practice, most organisations report performance against their own historical performance, against short-term targets developed internally or against industry best practice.

GRI's Sustainability Context Principle "involves discussing the performance of the organisation in the context of limits and demands placed on environmental or social resources at the sector, local, regional, or global level." However, GRI provides little guidance on how to do this, and most organisations that use the GRI guidelines for sustainability reporting do not report performance in this context.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ GRI Portal. "Reporting Framework Overview". Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  4. ^ Willis, Alan (2003). "The Role of the Global Reporting Initiative's Sustainability Reporting Guidelines in the Social Screening of Investments". Journal of Business Ethics 43 (3): 233–237. 
  5. ^ GRI. "Indicator Protocol Set" (PDF). 
  6. ^ United Nations Environment Programme. "Actors". Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  7. ^ Herzig, Christian (2006). Corporate Sustainability Reporting. An Overview. pp. 301–324. 
  8. ^ Orts, Eric (1995). "A Reflexive Model of Environmental Regulation". Business Ethics Quarterly 5 (4): 779–794. JSTOR 3857414. 
  9. ^ Carbon Disclosure Project. "CDP Overview". Retrieved 01/05/2011.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  10. ^ "Who Are GRI's Data Partners". The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Retrieved 7 June 2014. 
  11. ^ "Who Are GRI's Data Partners". The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Retrieved 7 June 2014. 
  12. ^ "GRI Reporting Data Partner". The Governance & Accountability Institute (G&A). Retrieved 7 June 2014. 
  13. ^ Retrieved 15 April 2015.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ "Sustainability reporting: does G4 enhance sight but obscure vision?". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 

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