IMS were in attendance (22nd-24th May 2013) at the RAI Conference center in Amsterdam to witness the unveiling of the GRI’s G4 guidelines.
The event was very well attended with over 1500 delegates from over 90 countries. All with a passion and strong interest in continuous improvement within sustainability.
GRI Chief Executive Ernst Ligteringen kicked off the Conference with an inspiring call for more businesses to integrate sustainability into their business models and practices. Ligteringen set the goal of all large companies reporting on sustainability by 2015.
"For sustainability reporting to help develop sustainable businesses and markets, it needs to offer information that is relevant, reliable and transparent, and readily available," said Ligteringen. "A lot of progress in this respect has been made but there's still a lot of work to be done. Reporting will only become standard practice beyond the world’s very largest companies when it has the backing of everyone."
With over 350 pages of guidelines to download, the following is a summary of the G4:
Despite several changes there are many areas that remain the same, and the G4 is still based on principles. As before, these principles are; Stakeholder Inclusiveness, Sustainability Context, Materiality, Completeness, Balance, Comparability, Accuracy, Timeliness, Completeness, Clarity. It should be noted that greater emphasis is now being placed on the above.
There are now two groups of indicators plus Disclosures of Management Approach (DMA). ‘General standard disclosures‘ (organisation, governance and reporting parameters) and ‘Specific Standard disclosures (aspects/issues and most performance indicators) Specific indicator requirements vary with ‘In Accordance’ level but also now vary according to individual materiality assessments.
A GRI index based on the specific accordance level is still needed.
Some changes in the G4 guidelines are as follows:
- There are now two complementary documents that are cross-referenced with quick links on key topics like assurance, principles, integrated reporting and indicators.
- There is a replacement of three-fold ‘Applications Levels’ with two levels of ‘In Accordance’ (mentioned above).
- Materiality now plays a much more explicit role in the selection of ‘Specific Standard Disclosures’
- Greater emphasis is now placed on the DMA. Guidance has been restructured into two types: Generic (broken down into three sub-sections; a,b,c) and Aspect-Specific (which is still under development for some aspects). It may be suggested that some clarity has been lost with these changes.
There is a greater tie-in and disclosure of core governance structures and processes into report production especially for ‘In Accordance – Comprehensive.’ At this higher level new requirements include reporting on “the highest committee or position that formally reviews and approves the organisation’s sustainability report and ensures that all material aspects are covered.”
Some positive and exciting introductions to the G4 include a requirement for more specific and detailed guidance with updated reporting requirements, such as energy and human rights where there has been substantial public policy and legislation changes. There is also a much more material basis for reporting, which should mean great specificity of reporting, fewer boiler plate statements covering indicators with low relevance to the organisation and increased audience engagement.
GRI is expecting a gradual switch to the new standard. A useful route to transition would be to begin work on transition during the next reporting cycle (published 2014) and full switch the following year. GRI’s deadline is that “reports published after 31 December 2015 should be prepared in accordance with the G4 Guidelines”.
IMS continues to work with multiple public and private organisations on their sustainability journey. If you are already using GRI’s standards, or thinking about doing so for the first time, IMS can help. We can offer a substantial reporting and verification package: GRI, stakeholder engagement, CDP and reporting. Please feel free to contact us at +44 (0) 117 325 0612 to find out how we may be able to help.