Making an impact and adding value with GRI standards
How, when and why to apply
On the 11th of April 2017, the Dutch launch of the GRI Standards took place. Contributors, users or future users met in the Edge, Deloitte’s Amsterdam office. Two presentations, a Q&A session and a Panel Discussion provided insights in ‘how, when and why to apply’ these standards.
- Improved clarity and applicability
- Stepping stone towards inclusive reporting
- The reporting journey brings change
Improved clarity and applicability
Bastian Buck, director of standards at GRI, introduced the new GRI Standards. Between the foundation in 1997 and the creation of the standards in 2016, the GRI reporting guidelines became one of the most applied standards in non-financial information.
The new Standards are built on the content and concepts of GRI-G4. Main improvements are the new modular structure that was created in order to stay up-to-date, and a clear distinction between requirements (‘shall’), recommendations (‘should’) and further guidance. Guidance on how to use and reference the Standards, whether it is an accordance report or to use a specifically selected topic, should increase flexibility and transparency. Requirements that are mandatory for preparing an in accordance report, are now provided in bold font and are indicated with the proverb ‘shall’.
With these improvements, GRI brings clarity and applicability of their universal framework and set of disclosures to the next level in order to meet the current reporting needs. Although earlier adoption is encouraged, the use of the Standards is required as of July 1, 2018.
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Stepping stone towards inclusive reporting
After exploring the content of the new Standards, Deloitte’s CFO Anton Sandler shared his views on ‘Making an impact that matters’. Envisioning his legacy towards a more integrated world, he stressed the importance of the inclusion of non-financial reporting in annual reports.
Making an impact that matters requires long term non-traditional thinking, focusing on the broader impacts of an organisation. Stakeholder engagement supports the realisation of an accurate picture of the impact an organisation has on society. In this area, the GRI can be the backbone of the internal structure of reporting. Using their materiality approach, a link of material issues from the materiality analysis can be made to reporting topics. This helps prioritise social expectations and improves stakeholder involvement, leading to an informed opinion on the business position.
Being a widely recognised framework, GRI facilitates comparability and benchmarking between companies’ reports. The guidance provided on data definitions and data robustness creates more clarity for both readers and auditors of the report. Combining this basis of GRI with other forms of reporting, such as Integrated Reporting or SDG reporting, can improve the quality of the disclosures on both financial and non-financial impacts. Both the Q&As and the panel discussion stressed the added benefits of combining the GRI Standards with these forms of reporting.
For both starting and seasoned reporters, the Standards provide a stepping stone towards more inclusive reporting. And as brought forward in the panel discussion, such reporting can extend its impacts to the business as a whole.
The reporting journey brings change
Bridging theory into practice, the panel discussion provided insights in the impacts created by the current GRI guidelines and the future use of the GRI Standards. Participating panellists were Maarten de Vuyst from Oxfam Novib, Sandra Schoonhoven from ING, Christopher Springham from LM Wind Power and Mariëlle van der Linden from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while the panel was moderated by Anton Sandler from Deloitte. Topic of the debate was “The future applicability of the Standards: drivers of sustainability reporting and integration into business models and value chains”.
All panellists recognised that the current business is still struggling with full non-financial inclusiveness. Yet the push from investors and increasing regulation mandates organisations to rethink their way of acting, and thus reporting as well. Special attention was given to future employees, for whom sustainability is one of the selection criteria for accepting a new job. Therefore, engaging with the GRI Standards was reckoned to be a first step in the journey towards full inclusiveness.
Regarding the latter, it was noted that it is important to be open for the changes that will result from this new reporting journey. In the experience of the panellists, the reporting process breaks down silos between different parts of the organisation, stimulating a process of more Integrated Thinking. Especially when the non-financial information becomes part of the monthly or quarterly (internal) reports and updates, it can support decision-making and alignment of external and internal reporting. Starting this journey may require vulnerability and openness to a certain extent, but was seen as essential by all different parties that were present.