Firms get sustainability reporting guidance

Green light for GRI initiative to provide formal framework for corporate sustainability reports

The first comprehensive set of guidelines for corporate sustainability reporting aimed at a global audience was published last night to a hearty initial response.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which has been under development since 1997, is a voluntary code governing economic, environmental and social dimensions that aims to achieve the rigour and comparability for sustainability reporting in the 21st century that financial reports achieved in the 20th.

Convened by the US-based Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), it is the result of a debate involving companies, NGOs, consultancies, accountancy organisations, business associations, universities, and other stakeholders from around the world.

Their publication represents a "major step towards a generally accepted, global framework for sustainability reporting," according to Roger Adams, GRI steering committee member and technical director of the UK's Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

Three major changes have been made since an initial draft was presented last year (ENDS Daily 3 March 1999). To broaden the range of organisations they are applicable to, indicators have been reformulated between three categories - generic, company or sector specific, and emerging indicators which organisations are currently testing.

More economic and social indicators have been added, to answer criticisms that the original draft was too light on these. The economic indicators, for example, have moved away from a previously largely financial base.

The thematic approach towards describing sustainability has also been reduced, with companies being asked to provide their own examples of how their activities across the three areas contribute to an overall sustainability approach. Finally, there is a stronger and more detailed position on external verification. The GRI will stop short of attempting to provide this itself, but has already convened a round table to discuss the way forward and will contribute to the development of an over-arching set of principles.

GRI has also begun work towards developing a permanent institution to take work further. Two dozen companies participated in a pilot test of the guidelines, and their comments - together with subsequent ones - will feed in to ultimate revisions of the code. Over time, the hope is to integrate the three dimensions more closely into an integrated structure.

Follow Up:
GRI, tel: +1 617 266 5400. The guidelines can be downloaded here

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