How the GRI Standards Can Bring Consistency to Your Sustainability Reporting

Kezia Farnham

Launched in 2016, the GRI Standards were the first global standards for organizations’ sustainability reporting. The Standards aim to bring consistency and rigor to the sustainability reporting process, in response to trends towards greater sustainability and impact reporting.

They are the latest in a series of reporting frameworks built by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Why is GRI important? — because it is an international independent standards body that aims to bring standardization to sustainability reporting.

The GRI helps businesses, governments and other organizations communicate not just sustainability, but their impacts on issues like human rights and corruption.

As transparency in business grows more highly prized, and climate disclosures become more commonplace, businesses look for benchmarks and frameworks to help them. Organizations needing to publish a sustainability report (sometimes termed a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report or Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) report) are looking for standardized ways to fulfill their obligations. The GRI Standards are one of the ways they’re attempting to do this.

 

The Growing Role of Sustainability Reporting

ESG considerations are growing ever more central to business. The importance of ESG spans corporate size, geography and sector, as customers, investors, business partners and employees vote with their conscience and their wallets.

Organizations recognize that strong ESG performance can be good for business — but the potential for accusations of greenwashing means that ESG claims need to be evidenced. The challenges in capturing and reporting on ESG metrics are leading increasing numbers of businesses to seek defined standards and guidance on sustainability reporting. Universal standards can be hard to come by —making the GRI Standards a welcome aspect of the ESG reporting landscape.

 

How Many Organizations Report Using the GRI Standards?

In their 2020 Survey of Sustainability Reporting, KPMG found that 96% of the world’s 250 largest companies report on their sustainability performance, with 73% of them using the GRI Standards to do so.

In total, more than 500 organizations from over 70 countries are part of the GRI Community, representing organizations from across a range of sizes, geographies and sectors.

This makes the GRI Standards the most widely-used sustainability reporting standards globally.

Who uses GRI standards and what do they do?

What Are GRI Standards?

The GRI Standards are issued by the Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB), an independent operating entity of GRI.

They are modular, comprising several sets of standards that can be adopted by companies of different sizes and sectors:

  • Universal Standards — apply to all organizations
  • Sector Standards — designed to allow consistent reporting on sector-specific issues
  • Topic Standards — relevant to a particular topic
The GRI reporting standards are reviewed to ensure they continue to reflect global best practices on sustainability reporting, in line with evolving requirements and regulations.

 

How Many GRI Standards Are There?

The GRI framework and standards are comprehensive: you can see a full list on the GRI’s website.

The GRI Universal Standards help organizations to identify their material topics and introduce principles they should use when reporting.

The Sector Standards are organized into four Priority Groups:

  • Priority Group 1: Basic materials and needs
  • Priority Group 2: Industrial
  • Priority Group 3: Transport, infrastructure and tourism
  • Priority Group 4: Other services and light manufacturing

The Topic Standards are split into three series: the 200 Series, which focuses on economic topics, the 300 Series, which explores environmental topics and the 400 Series, which focuses on social topics.

GRI Standards List

The full list of GRI Standards is as follows:

 GRI 1: Foundation 2021
 GRI 2: General Disclosures 2021
 GRI 3: Material Topics 2021
 GRI 11: Oil and Gas Sector 2021
 GRI 12: Coal Sector 2022
 GRI 201: Economic Performance 2016
 GRI 202: Market Presence 2016
 GRI 203: Indirect Economic Impacts 2016
 GRI 204: Procurement Practices 2016
 GRI 205: Anti-corruption 2016
 GRI 206: Anti-competitive Behavior 2016
 GRI 207: Tax 2019
 GRI 301: Materials 2016
 GRI 302: Energy 2016
 GRI 303: Water and Effluents 2018
 GRI 304: Biodiversity 2016
 GRI 305: Emissions 2016
 GRI 306: Effluents and Waste 2016
 GRI 306: Waste 2020
 GRI 308: Supplier Environmental Assessment 2016
 GRI 401: Employment 2016
 GRI 402: Labor/Management Relations 2016
 GRI 403: Occupational Health and Safety 2018
 GRI 404: Training and Education 2016
 GRI 405: Diversity and Equal Opportunity
 GRI 406: Non-discrimination 2016
 GRI 407: Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining 2016
 GRI 408: Child Labor 2016
 GRI 409: Forced or Compulsory Labor 2016
 GRI 410: Security Practices 2016
 GRI 411: Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2016
 GRI 413: Local Communities 2016
 GRI 414: Supplier Social Assessment 2016
 GRI 415: Public Policy 2016
 GRI 416: Customer Health and Safety 2016
 GRI 417: Marketing and Labeling 2016
 GRI 418: Customer Privacy 2016
 

Why Use GRI Standards?

You might wonder: why is sustainability reporting using the GRI Standards important for you or your organization? And how do you use GRI Standards in your reporting?

There are many reasons why a company might use the GRI Standards as a framework for the preparation of its sustainability reports.

  • They provide a structure to your reporting: the GRI Standards create a set of principles via which organizations can define the content of their reports.
  • The sector-specific focus and modular nature of the Standards mean that companies can focus on the areas most material to their business.
  • The Standards are flexible, enabling organizations to adapt their reporting according to their priority areas.
  • They are wide-ranging, covering sustainability topics ranging from anti-corruption to water pollution.
  • They are regularly updated, to ensure they keep pace with the latest sustainability thinking and regulation.
  • The GRI Standards are aligned with other, recognized international frameworks and instruments for responsible corporate behavior, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the International Labor Organization Conventions.
  • You can also use the GRI Standards to report on your organizational impact and progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the GRI providing guidance on integrating the SDGs into sustainability reporting.

 

Make Use of the GRI Standards To Accelerate Your ESG Journey

If you’re already using the GRI Standards as a framework for your sustainability reporting, you will know that they can bring consistency and confidence to your ESG metrics, positioning you well for any ESG due diligence your investors or customers may do.

If you’re yet to fully explore the potential of the Standards, hopefully, this GRI Standards summary has helped you to understand their structure and benefits.

 

Maximize the Consistency and Reliability of Your ESG Reporting

Organizations reporting via the GRI Standards are required to comply with Reporting Principles that mandate using reliable and quality information. This is central, as the quality and availability of ESG data can be one of the obstacles for businesses trying to improve their ESG reporting.

Businesses can (but do not have to) use external assurance to enhance the credibility of their reporting. If an organization does seek external assurance, it must also include the assurance report with its GRI reporting.

Without external assurance, organizations need other checks and measures to ensure their reporting is valid and robust.

This can be a challenge; ESG is a vast and multi-faceted topic for businesses to get to grips with, and data can be a barrier. Diligent ESG can help you to access this data and give assurance that it is accurate. As a result, you can accelerate your progress, no matter where you are on your journey.

Diligent Modern ESG allows you to map ESG data against a range of standards, including GRI, helping you with reporting according to GRI standards and allowing you to track ESG progress against your peers and competitors.

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Kezia Farnham Diligent
Content Strategy Manager
Kezia Farnham

Kezia Farnham is the Content Strategy Manager at Diligent. She's a University of the Arts London graduate who has enjoyed over seven years working across journalism, public relations and digital marketing, with a special focus on SEO and CRO in the B2B SaaS sector.

Kezia is passionate about helping governance professionals find the right information at the right time.