To keep up to date about current green building trends, I recently attended an all-day Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) training called U.S. EPA: Sustainability Reporting through GRI: Unlocking the Power in the Pacific NW and Beyond.

The program brought together government agencies, private companies, students, and non-profit organizations and was designed to help organizations navigate GRI submissions and understand how to measure, report and use social and environmental performance data. The Virginia Mason Hospital and Downtown Medical Center was a fitting venue as the organization has attained impressive sustainability goals.

I attended to increase my knowledge of the GRI G4 guidelines, which were released last year, although companies can choose whether to submit under the G3 or G4 guidelines through 2015. While I learned technical details of the standard, the real value came from learning from those around me.

Some participants had submitted to GRI before but most were deciding whether GRI was right for their organization, and their insights were invaluable.

Below are my top take-aways for those contemplating submitting to GRI:

New to GRI? Attend a training session!

I found this GRI training event through Sustainable Seattle’s monthly sustainability newsletter. Attending a training makes the whole process feel more manageable (no more fear of the unknown), and will connect you with others in your area in a similar position.

Materiality Matters

Materiality is critical for a number of sustainable reporting frameworks and GRI is no exception. Deciding what is material to your organization is an important step in submitting to GRI — it determines the scope of your report.

But how do you decide whether something is material? The best way is to ask two questions. First, who cares? If no one cares, it isn’t material. If your stakeholders, employees, executive sponsor, or industry cares, it’s material. Secondly, does it represent a significant risk or opportunity for your business? If so, it’s material. Ignore the rest; its noise, but make sure you re-evaluate each year as priorities shift.

Which Stakeholders should be included?

It can be difficult to decide which stakeholders should be consulted as you begin to put together your report. Start with your primary stakeholders: anyone who is directly influenced by your organization’s efforts, like investors or employees.

Then as time and resources allow, move on to your secondary stakeholders, anyone who is indirectly influenced. Examples of secondary stakeholders might be potential customers, the local community, or interested third parties like local sustainability groups.

Think about the best way to engage your stakeholders (is there an existing company survey that you could add a question to? Can you hold a focus group?), concentrating first on the stakeholders that are most important. And be sure to share your results with them once you’ve finished!

It was heart-warming to be with so many organizations with a passion for sustainability, and humbling to learn from my peers. And finally, I’m excited share these lessons-learned with Paladino’s clients to help continue their own sustainability journey.






Kelly Manuel is an Analyst with Paladino Seattle

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