Meet Michael Meehan, GRI's new CEO

Last month, the Global Reporting Initiative hired its first new CEO in more than a decade, a veteran sustainability executive with a deep background in tech.

The leadership comes at a crossroads for the sustainability reporting movement, and Michael Meehan's job description is pretty daunting.

Tactically speaking, Meehan is responsible for steeping GRI in new methodologies for natural capital and integrated reporting.

Strategically speaking, he'll need to help GRI forge much tighter collaborations and relationships with other key stakeholders shaping sustainability reporting.

Oh, and did we mention his ongoing role as an advocate for better corporate transparency?

"Having demonstrated entrepreneurial leadership, strategic vision, as well as significant management abilities, it is clear to the GRI board that Michael is the ideal person to lead us forward," said Chairman Christianna Wood, announcing his appointment. "Michael shares GRI's vision of a sustainable global economy and is committed to continuing GRI's ground-breaking leadership to make sustainability and human rights issues integral parts of how all organizations are managed."

So, this summer, Meehan is packing up his stuff in Austin, Texas, to make the cross-Atlantic move to GRI's Amsterdam headquarters. He took a break to speak with me about his priorities. Here are three of my biggest takeaways:

1. He loves the word 'multi-stakeholder'

Some GRI nostalgia: The non-profit organization was set up in 1997 by CERES and the United Nations Environment Program, with the overarching mission of making sustainability reporting a standard corporate practice. According to its latest figures, more than 19,000 people worldwide are trained on GRI methodologies, and more than 5,000 businesses issue reports based on its framework (including more than 1,500 private companies).

Those numbers thrill Meehan, but he downplays the obsession on specific reporting audiences — such as those worried about Securities and Exchange Commission requirements — that got us here. For Meehan, the focus is on holistic data collection and transparency, regardless of who will see it.

"We've got all of this information, all of this interest from the corporate world, really for the first time," he said. "But if we focus only on investors, these other organizations — human rights, labor and social — don't get a seat at the table."

2. He wants to make more friends

How does GRI's reporting framework relate to methodologies developed by CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project) versus the Dow Jones Sustainability Index versus the International Integrated Reporting Council versus the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board.

To Meehan, the difference is obvious. But the reality is there's a lot of confusion among sustainability professionals about whether these initiatives are complementary or competitive. Meehan wants to clarify these relationships, so you'll see him in much closer touch with other standards bodies. "We all know each other," he said. "We need to get better about sharing resources."

3. He's a fan of 'open source' innovation

Meehan's background in technology, as CEO of software developers Carbonetworks (acquired in 2011 by Infor) and iVeridis, will inform his master plan to turn GRI data in "a launchpad for innovation around sustainability."

What the heck does that mean? The answer lies in new products and services powered by Big Data analytics. As an example, Meehan points out that the business intelligence behind Bloomberg's BNA news service is contributed by GRI's databases.

Increasingly, GRI's focus will be on creating a platform that allows data to be shared and combined with other metrics far more easily, to create valuable new insights. "We don’t need more reports, we need more information," Meehan said.

Top image of Michael Meehan courtesy of GRI.