Get ready: Sustainability reporting becoming inevitable

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.

The Army falls under the Department of Defense and has the ability to procure things on its own, but it also coordinates procurement through the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). Due to EO 13514, GSA also is required to assess its own sustainability performance, but -- as the primary procurement body for the US government -- it also has some additional duties. 

The GSA gets involved

In September 2011, the GSA posted this on the Federal Business Opportunities website:

“The General Services Administration (GSA) has responded by setting the following priorities in its FY 2010-2015 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan (SSPP):

• GSA will Green its Supply Chain

• GSA will Eliminate Waste in its Operations and Activities

• GSA will Use its Influence to Reduce the Environmental Impact of the Federal Government

GSA has also committed to conducting a sustainability report in accordance with the standards established by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).”

The posting also explains how GSA planned to contract sustainability training for its own staff. That contract was granted to one of GRI’s Certified Training Partners.

As GSA got to know GRI, we, the GRI, also got to know GSA. In addition to the training mentioned above, we continually shared best practices with GSA staff about specific industries and associations, such as the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) and the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC). AIAG is a GRI Organizational Stakeholder and is using a GRI Certified Training Partner to provide sustainability training to it members, which constitute the majority of suppliers to the Big 3 auto companies. You can read the details in my July post on GreenBiz: “Using associations to leverage change in sustainability.” Intel, a member of the EICC, went a step further by working directly with GRI to provide training to its top 75 suppliers. It also wrote a blog post about it.

The latest development came this week, with the GSA asking federal contractors for sustainability reports.

Conclusion: Whether you are a public or private company, large or small, you are undoubtedly in someone’s supply chain. Given that all corners of the global economy are increasingly measuring, managing and reporting sustainability performance, you inevitably will find yourself facing the question, “What is your footprint?” You will need to report something. Are you ready?