Get ready: Sustainability reporting becoming inevitable

Part of the GRI Focal Point’s role in the U.S. is to connect the “sustainability dots” -- not just those dots related to the financial market’s interest in publicly traded companies and sustainability performance, but dots all across the economy. After all, companies aren’t the only ones with a footprint. Local, state and federal governments have footprints too, as do schools and universities, nonprofit hospitals and NGOs. Some of those are very large organizations with significant footprints and long, interconnected supply chains. 

Around the world, these entities increasingly are applying sustainability to their activities. Some are doing so due to rules and regulations, some through guidance and some through procurement. In the article “GRI Reporting: Public Sector Progress,” you’ll see that sustainability reporting has expanded to cities, states, universities, airports and marine ports. Last year, a U.S. state agency became the first to produce its own sustainability report.

If we agree to the concept of sustainability as one that’s bounded by the limits of the planet, don’t we need to be thinking about the sustainability performance of all institutions and organizations? Shouldn’t we all be measuring, managing and reporting in a standardized manner on the most material issues as defined by society, not just shareholders?

Let me lay out some “sustainability dots” so you can connect them and predict where this is all heading. 

First, do you know that that U.S. Army has its own “integrated” sustainability report? It obviously has a very big footprint, both positive and negative, but don’t judge it until you read the report! The Army started exploring sustainability and reporting back in 2001, when it contracted a global study of sustainability reporting trends. The initiative is outlined in this press release: “US Federal community marches into a sustainable 2012.

The US Army's sustainability report

After several years of sustainability reporting -- along with the Obama administration’s introduction of Executive Order 13514, which set environmental goals and reporting requirements for federal agencies, in October 2009 -- the Army became the first federal agency to produce an "integrated” sustainability report in October 2012. (It integrates the executive order’s requirements into a GRI report.) The Army wanted to tell a broader story than what the EO required, and it’s worth a read. Due to federal requirements, it also published the cost of this reporting effort on the second page of the report. Given its overall size, its approach to integrating GRI with the EO seems very efficient.

Now consider the size of the Army’s supply chain. Are you somewhere in that supply chain? Or in the supply chain of someone in that supply chain? Then you might want to read about the Army’s own Green Procurement Program to see how they specifically reference GRI Indicators such as EN6, EN7, EN26 and PA11, to name a few. You also might want to consider what sort of sustainability related questions might be coming your way.

Image of man holding stack of old folders by Voyagerix via Shutterstock.