What GRI Learned in Its First Year in America

What GRI Learned in Its First Year in America

Want the facts and a factoid?

We don’t officially stop counting 2011 reporters until March, but based on current information we are estimating roughly a 35 percent increase in GRI reporters in the U.S. from 2010 to 2011. Our latest analysis of North American GRI Reporters identifies 241 individual reporters. If you are interest in the overall global and regional analysis of reporting trends for last year, you can see GRI’s Sustainability Reporting Statistics 2010.

Thanks to excellent research on the sustainability reports being released by U.S. organizations, our new U.S. Data Partner Governance & Accountability Institute is helping identify previously unknown GRI reporters. An interesting and generally unknown factoid is that there are numerous GRI reporters that aren’t aware that they need to register their GRI report if they want to make it into our database of reporters. Not only that, but here in the U.S. we are realizing that many reporters aren’t fully aware of how the GRI Application Levels can and should be applied, nor are they aware of the Report Services GRI offers to help reporters finalize and post their reports. If you have published a sustainability report and you’re not in the Governance & Accountability Institute’s database, use the information on their site to get registered!

Where are the biggest developments? Everywhere!

After almost 15-years’ worth of international effort, GRI and all its stakeholders can proudly state the following:

GRI is being written into national regulation, implemented by state-owned companies, integrated into stock exchange listing rules and being increasingly woven into the procurement policies of large, influential institutions.

Much of this is summarized in the publication Carrots & Sticks, with some of the latest global developments available on GRI’s Report or Explain Campaign Forum.

What are the biggest developments in the U.S.?

Supply chain management is going to be the biggest game-changing factor for sustainability. Not only managing the supply chain, but making the information publicly available is already changing the way sustainability performance is being embraced, standardized and disclosed.

In the U.S. we saw two very interesting GRI developments from two well-known commercial institutions. First, last October we saw Microsoft announce a new supply chain initiative that encourages suppliers to report on sustainability using the GRI Guidelines. Just this January we saw Apple announce its own supply chain approach, which also suggests suppliers report using GRI.

This is not a new approach, globally, but it is new here in the U.S. Globally, GRI is working with a range of well-known companies to not only seek disclosure from their suppliers, but GRI is working directly with companies and their suppliers to train the suppliers on reporting. Through GRI’s Global Action Network – GANTSCh multinational corporations are collaborating in this unique program that promotes sustainability, as well as transparency in their supply chain. This program was also embraced by the Catalan Chamber of Commerce who is partnering with 11 large local companies to train 60 local suppliers, who are all small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Why is this important, especially in the U.S.?

First of all, think about how most sustainable supply chain programs evolve. Most are designed in a B-to-B fashion -- keeping everything proprietary and locked down between the companies involved. Company A has a concern about their supply chain. They spend internal time and resources to develop their own proprietary survey, review it with legal, purchasing and others and then send out to their suppliers with a request for information in a certain way, by a certain date. The suppliers, many of whom are already complaining about survey fatigue from other customers and other stakeholders, respond to yet another new “business requirement.” If they have a sustainability strategy and program, a dedicated person and a sustainability report -- they can more easily access and reporting on this information.

In a perfect world, Company A receives responses from all their suppliers in a timely manner, with consistent information reported in comparable units of measurement, and all guaranteed to be true and accurate. We are not living in a perfect world. Nor is it necessarily Company A’s core competency to be requesting, collecting, managing and proofing such data.

The actions taken by the companies involved in GRI’s GANTSCh Program, as well as the announcements made by Microsoft and Apple are an indication of the future of more market driven, efficient and effective supply chain management programs.

  • First, leveraging the GRI Guidelines and their global uptake sends a strong message about the growing interest in standardized, consistent and credible reporting on a set of performance metrics that have been created, vetted and are already being used by over 80 percent of the world’s largest companies (Global 250).
  • Second, asking suppliers to adopt the most widely used sustainability reporting framework in the world would let them know that there is a globally accepted approach.
  • Third, having consistent GRI reporting from a range of suppliers could then roll up more easily and accurately into the buyer’s own sustainability report.
  • Fourth, asking the suppliers to make their own GRI report public instills competitiveness (i.e., what will the other suppliers report?) and leverages existing stakeholder interest (i.e., a range of stakeholders will have access to the public information, including research firms and raters.).
  • Fifth, a public report can then also be used by the suppliers for a range of other interested audiences (i.e., their own stakeholders like employees, the local community and other customers.)
  • Finally, for those in the supply chain who have already done a GRI report, there would be a resounding sigh of relief that their voluntary efforts to report on sustainability is being accepted by one of their most important stakeholders -- their customer.

Have a look at the GRI Reporters on the Governance & Accountability Institute site and think about how many of these companies are already voluntarily reporting on sustainability. Are they in your supply chain? Are you in their supply chain? Do any of you need yet another approach to reporting on sustainability, or another questionnaire to fill out, or another one to verify yourself?

With that in mind, consider the fact that the White House Executive Order 13514 is asking all branches of the U.S. government to report on sustainability and that this too requires a look at their supply chain. The U.S. is THE largest buyer in the world. Most of that procurement is managed through the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). Then consider how much GRI activity is already happening within various branches of the US government. Much of this is outlined in a GRI’s February Newsletter in “U.S. Federal Community Marches into Sustainability 2012”. .

Consider the global trends we are seeing, the developments outlined in this very article and what you have probably experienced in your own work in this field. When you look at the GRI Reporters list, think about how many of those GRI reporters are in the U.S. government’s supply chain. Where might all this be heading? Where would you like it to head?

Fortunately GRI’s time here in the U.S. has given us a unique opportunity to not only see these developments, but to also share some of these global best practices among a wide range of stakeholders. This includes the U.S. GSA, which now knows a lot about GRI after holding an internal GRI Certified Training Course last October.

No one can be sure how this is going to play out, but from talking to the long list of GRI reporters who are already in the U.S. government’s supply chain, we’re certain that none of them are looking for another sustainability survey or questionnaire. In fact, one long-time GRI reporter from the automotive sector and a big supplier to the U.S. government suggested GRI needed to initiate similar training programs in every U.S. state. This company had just received their latest sustainability survey, a lengthy procurement document from another of their largest fleet buyers -- the State of California’s Department of General Services. They said it was good that they had just finished their latest GRI report and could draw from it, but they also said it would be much more efficient if California would just accept their GRI report.

Imagine the survey fatigue and wasted resources on all sides of the equation -- the buyer and the seller, the stakeholder and the seller. Imagine if every governor in every state and every mayor in every city starts implementing their own approach to managing their supply chains?

With that said, GRI is actively talking to the states of California and Washington and the cities of Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, New Haven and New York in hopes of connecting more dots and raising the awareness about the utility GRI reporting could bring to all interested parties.

Photo of U.S. passport via Shutterstock.com.