Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


revised GRI guidelines get down to the nitty-gritty

February 2006

The Global Reporting Initiative’s sustainability reporting guidelines are undergoing their most radical revision since being released six years ago.

A draft of the revised guidelines, which is out for comment until 31 March, for the first time includes sections known as ‘technical protocols’ that specify in considerable detail how companies should use social and environmental performance indicators in their reports. The present guidelines confine themselves to short statements – sometimes only one line long – on what form the 47 core and 32 optional indicators should take.

The development of the protocols, collectively running to scores of pages, has greatly increased the length and detail of the guidelines, although they are published separately from the main body of the document, which itself runs to 28 pages. The draft is referred to as G3, being the guidelines’ third revision.

Mark Line, director of csrnetwork consultancy, which helped the GRI draw up the protocols in conjunction with triple innova and Just Solutions, said they should make requirements much clearer. ‘Hopefully, they’ve clarified a lot of the areas of uncertainty,’ he told EP. ‘In the current guidelines all you generally get is one sentence saying what the indicator is and one line after that saying what you ought to do with it. So it’s left completely open to interpretation.

‘Now you will get at least two or three pages explaining the purpose of the indicator, its scope, compilation, methodology, useful references, and pointers towards relevant international standards. So it’s much more obvious what you need to be doing.’

Another significant change in the draft is tougher demands on reporters to show not only that they have policies in particular areas, but that they have management systems to implement them. The GRI hopes this will stop some companies merely stating they have a policy and taking no action.

Work on the G3 guidelines, which was funded by Alcan, BP, Ford, General Motors, Microsoft, Royal Bank of Canada and Shell, took 18 months. GRI is holding one-day events in more than 20 cities to publicize the changes. A second draft will be produced by mid-2006 for submission to the GRI’s governing bodies and is due to be released in October.

G3 also features an expanded section on the crucial issue of materiality – how companies should decide what to report on and what to leave out. The more detailed version may not please critics who believe the guidelines are already too prescriptive. Line warned that the GRI needs to ensure companies new to sustainability reporting are not deterred by the length and detail of the new guidelines.

‘A reporting virgin looking at G3 is going to be pretty daunted, so it’s important GRI communicates its message that you have to report only on the indicators that are important for your business,’ he said. ‘That’s going to be a challenging message to get across.’ Indicators on company pension plan obligations and on climate change are among the draft proposals.

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