Alcoa, GE, Shell Help GRI Launch Next-Gen Reporting Standards

Alcoa, GE, Shell Help GRI Launch Next-Gen Reporting Standards

Sustainability reporting is a relatively new phenomenon in the business world, but has already shown itself to be a constantly evolving practice being undertaken by thousands of companies across sectors and continents.

The Global Reporting Initiative -- creators of the world's most widely-used reporting framework for tracking and reporting non-financial performance -- is hoping its next iteration will help more organizations to report on their sustainability performance. Ten companies have been brought on-board to launch The Global G4 Consortium to guide development of the GRI's G4 framework, due for release in 2013.

Consortium members Alcoa, Enel, GE, Goldman Sachs, Natura and Shell will advise the GRI during the next two years, along with the Big Four accounting firms Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the nonprofit announced this week.

"We might invite one or two other companies as global sponsors," Nelmara Arbex, the GRI's deputy chief executive, said in an email. "We also will invite organizations to become regional sponsors of G4 and promote local discussions. Particularly in Brazil, U.S., Australia, India and China. A few other regions might come to complete the list."

G4 will be developed with several objectives in mind, Arbex said:

• Make reporting easier and cost efficient
• Offer guidance on integrated reporting, aligned with IIRC (International Integrated Reporting Committee) framework development, to companies willing to follow this new reporting trend
• Promote harmonization with international recognized reporting guidance, such as the UNGC and OECD Guidelines
• Be offered in a format compatible with new data tagging technology, such as XBRL, and digital databanks
• Reflect new emerging issues, improve technical definitions, improve "standard setting" language and due process descriptions.

 

Each iteration of the GRI is designed to reflect changes in the sustainability space. Compared to G2, the G3 guidelines became more precise and three different levels of GRI reports were created, Arbex said. There was also a greater emphasis placed on the materiality principle, where stakeholders are offered a chance to weigh in on defining which topics are important for companies to focus on. G3 was then updated to become G3.1, which includes improvements in the areas of human rights and gender issues.  

Several groups of stakeholders will play a role in the process, including businesses, labor, institutional investors, analysts, standards setters, assurance providers and NGOs.

One of the members with a seat at the table, Alcoa, would also like to see a few enhancements to the guidelines, such as inclusion of lifecycle assessment data that could shed light on the environmental attributes and benefits of products and services, according to Kevin Anton, the company's chief sustainability officer.

"If you look at some of the rating services, they only ask, 'What is your footprint?" he said. "They don't look at the impact the products you've created will have on society."

He would also like to see the G4 framework used as a resource for supply chain-related information, supplanting the bombardment of supplier questionnaires Alcoa and other companies receive from their customers.

Also helpful, Anton said, would be a system that is generally easy to verify. Third-party verification of non-financial information is relatively low, particularly in the U.S., where in 2010, just 9.6 percent of sustainability reported produced by the S&P 500 were verified for accuracy, according to GreenBiz.com's State of Green Business report.

"One of the joys of having the Big Four accounting firms (in the Consortium)," Anton said, "is we're creating protocols they will be able to issue assurance on."