Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
The Global Reporting Initiative is a network-based organisation that promotes economic, environmental and social sustainability.
Formed by Ceres and the Tellus Institute, with support from the United Nations Environment Programme, GRI produces one of the world's most prevalent standards for sustainability reporting.
GRI convenes a network of over 600 organisational stakeholders from over 60 countries.
GRI provides a baseline framework on reporting sustainability that can be used across industries, and one of the organisation's core objectives is to make sustainability reporting as routine as its financial equivalent.
GRI's Board of Directors carries ultimate responsibility for guidance, finances and activity. The board is made up of a chair and proportional representation from GRI's four constituencies: business, civil society organisations, labour and mediating institutions.
The GRI's governance structure is also made up of a larger Stakeholder Council, responsible for making policy recommendations. Regarding funding, GRI received more than half of its income from project and service fees, and around a quarter from member fees.
Members and beneficiaries:
The GRI organisational stakeholders include many prominent global brands. Nearly 8,000 organisations have produced almost 20,000 reports using the GRI framework.
The top sectors using GRI are financial services, energy and utilities, and food and beverage products.
GRI's reporting framework centres on the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines.
These contain a wide range of performance indicators split into three categories:
i) Economic (economic performance; market presence; indirect economic impacts),
ii) Environmental (materials; energy; water; biodiversity; emissions, effluence and waste; products and services; compliance; transport)
iiI) Social (labour; human rights; society; product responsibility).
GRI recommends (but does not mandate) that reporting organisations use external assurance to verify claims made in their reports. While not recommending particular assurance providers (auditors), it does set criteria on acceptable providers.
SustainAbility has argued that GRI's broad substantive focus compels businesses to report on many issues superficially, rather than focus in detail on those that really matter, producing lengthy reports that may check boxes but provide insufficient detail on core issues and impacts.
Meanwhile, CSR Consultant Elaine Cohen has argued that GRI needs to focus on the rigour of assurance claims made against its performance indicators, describing this area as “the Wild West of Sustainability Reporting”.
From academia, GRI has been criticised for failing to shift the balance of power from corporations towards civil society and for largely sidelining NGO and trade union voices*, as well as for ignoring small and medium enterprises in favour of multi-national corporations**.
GRI does not have a consumer-facing label. Concerned consumers can find out about company participation through the GRI website, and occasionally through company websites.
GRI is very transparent about members, funding, the reporting framework and governance structure in its annual reports and website, while its Sustainability Disclosure Database contains every report since 1999.
However, because of the focus on process-based reporting over systematic assessment and remediation in production sites, it it not possible to verify with confidence the actual impact of GRI.
* Levy, D.L., Brown, H.S. and de Jong, M. (2009) 'The Contested Politics of Corporate Governance: The Case of the Global Reporting Initiative’, Business and Society, 49 (1): pp. 88-115.
** Brown, H.S. (2011) ‘Global Reporting Initiative’, in T. Hale and D. Held (Eds.) Handbook of Transnational Governance: Institutions and Innovations. Cambridge: Polity Press.