Government leaders dive in to G4 reporting

Something interesting is happening within governments around the world: Sustainability is taking hold. Governments are increasingly writing sustainability into law, developing new national guidelines around sustainability and even beginning to examine sustainability within their own supply chains.

For example, the European Union (EU) just adopted the Directive for Disclosure of Non-financial and Diversity Information. And the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an updated version of the Report on the Environment, outlining indicators that help the organization monitor trends in U.S. air, water, land, ecological systems, human exposure and health and — newly added this year — sustainability.

The most profound shift, however, is when any institution begins to ask suppliers to report on sustainability. Whether you are with a large multinational, publicly traded or privately held company, or an SME (small medium enterprise), you are in a supply chain — and you can count on getting the sustainability question from a customer.

In light of these developments, our organization, BrownFlynn, hosted a special session of our G4 Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Certified Training Course in Washington, D.C. April 23-24, in which we extended special invitations to members of cross-functional government entities.

Getting trained on GRI

As we've previously pointed out, Executive Order 13514 requires all U.S. federal agencies to measure, manage and report on sustainability performance. We felt it was important for these government entities to be given a unique opportunity to learn alongside their peers about GRI's globally used process for managing sustainability. This special training was conducted in partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development at its U.S. offices.

Attendees included representatives from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, U.S. Department of Labor, General Services Administration (GSA), EPA, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, U.S. Army, Energy & Environment, Office of Personnel Management and Office of Contracting and Procurement. We also had several non-governmental organizations in attendance, including the Corporate Responsibility AssociationInterfaith Center on Corporate ResponsibilityGlobal Initiative for Sustainability Ratings and Practice Greenhealth.

The group additionally had the opportunity to hear from Eric Israel, newly announced director of GRI's North American operations. He provided GRI's perspective throughout the training and gave an overview of GRI's plans internationally and in North America. His perspective was especially relevant as discussions turned to harmonization and alignment with other international and national approaches to sustainability management and reporting, such as the United Nations Global Compact, the International Integrated Reporting Council, CDP and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board.

Identifying government trends

As the federal government assesses its own sustainability management and performance under the Executive Order, it's realizing that its supply chain comprises a large part of its footprint. For example, the GSA is required to report on its own sustainability performance while it helps other federal agencies achieve their respective procurement goals. It even identifies specific environmental management goals in its 2014-2018 Strategic Plan, which point to what the future will entail for suppliers to the U.S. government. 

Looking at other trends within the federal government, the GRI training featured the example set by the U.S. Army, which has produced four sustainability reports in accordance with the GRI Guideline. The most recent report (PDF), published in 2013, covered initiatives for 2010-2011. The assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment oversees the overall sustainability of the U.S. Army and manages a number of initiatives regarding energy and operational efficiency while enhancing capabilities and safeguarding resources. The latest report explicitly integrates GRI with the Executive Order, and outlines specifics about supply chain management plans.

During the GRI-certified training, several facilitated exercises asked participants to pair up or work in small groups to address a specific sustainability issue as it related to their individual organization. This not only allowed the participants to learn about other organizations, but gave them the chance to see their own issue through the eyes of an outsider. This interaction provided for diversity of thought and approach, and provided each person with tangible ideas and action steps to tackle real sustainability dilemmas.

For BrownFlynn, this was a first, and we were amazed at the amount of common interests in the room, as well as the common issues we see when we do this training with corporate attendees. Silos exist in every organization, and undertaking a robust approach to developing and integrating a sustainability program helps break down those barriers.

A number of the federal agencies expressed their appreciation for being brought together not only for training on GRI G4 and how it can be applied, but also for the opportunity to meet and work with their peers across the government. In addition, the nonprofit associations in the room identified new opportunities for partnership, as well as how to apply GRI within and across their own organizations and members. BrownFlynn is looking forward to continuing this sort of facilitation not only at the federal level, but across the economy.

Reporting photo by cosma via Shutterstock