If your organization is beginning to consider releasing corporate sustainability reports, the GRI G4 are the guidelines that you need to follow.
There are as many ways to report on sustainability as there are techniques to be sustainable. And many organizations are stymied by the struggle to get value out of their reporting efforts because they don’t know how to navigate their options – which is why many organizations are turning to the GRI Reporting Guidelines. These guidelines are the most widely used comprehensive sustainability reporting standard in the world.
The GRI guidelines provide a framework and standards for reporting both content and quality through defined parameters and processes. They provide sustainability metrics in the form of indicators with defined measurable aspects. Organizations can report on their outcomes using these metrics, and can compare their results against their competitors.
If I were to find controversy with the G4 guidelines, it’s that they give organizations the flexibility to obscure shortcomings. GRI reports allow organizations to set the context of their report and to sometimes too narrow a focus. They define materiality as where the organization’s values and greatest impact are, positive or negative, but it is up to the organization to define and justify this selection. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – companies that invest in sustainability in order to pursue their established values are generally more successful. You can download a white paper explaining value-driven sustainability here.
GRI and Paladino share an important philosophical viewpoint – which is that sustainability needs to be pursued and measured in the context of the organization’s values. We don’t want every business in the world to be more sustainable because it meets our agenda – we want them to do it because it meets theirs.
The key to understanding the G4 framework is the principle of materiality: what is most valuable and most impactful for your organization to report on. The guidelines offer reporting requirements and guidance on the varying levels of impact and disclosure through multiple resources. Organizations can focus on documenting what matters to them instead of investing in arbitrary data for the sake of reporting.
Here are three excellent examples of reports in accordance with and based on the GRI G4 guidelines:
While any organization can submit a GRI report, it is much easier if you have a qualified professional who deeply understands the guidelines as well as the reporting requirements.
I took the exam so that you don’t have to.
The process of becoming a successful GRI candidate goes like this. First, you attend a certified training course with one of GRI’s certified training partners. The course gives an overview of the process and provides insights into how to apply the GRI framework for reporting. Next you take the G4 exam, which tests your capability to execute the reporting.
What’s brilliant about the exam is that it replicates a real-world scenario. It’s an open book evaluation – I was able to refer to the reporting guidelines, implementation manual, and course manual during the exam. This is reflective of the similar free resources I will have when I start planning a GRI report for our clients. This is a much more effective approach than a multiple choice exam, which asks minute technical details and specifications for all possible parameters but doesn’t actually prepare you for any real circumstance.
So the exam tested my ability to use the available resources, my understanding of the process of quality reporting, and the applicability of the G4 framework to various contexts. The act of taking the test made me a better consultant.
I’m proud to say that I was one of 94 people in the world to pass the exam to date. You can find the complete list here.
Want to learn more? G4 online is a great tool to explore the guidelines and review the requirements, planning, and execution processes. It also includes definitions and links concepts, references and examples.
The G4 Guidelines are more than a reporting framework or report card. They are a source of ideas that help in developing an organization’s approach to sustainability and reporting; and a starting point for your organization’s aspirations to innovate and differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace.
Divya Natarajan is a project manager in Paladino’s DC office.