November 25, 2021 By IBM Envizi 4 min read

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is an international, independent nonprofit that supports businesses, governments and other organizations to clearly communicate their impact on the world. Thorough, accurate environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting is paramount for both growth and transparency, but without a standardized methodology, sustainability reporting can be difficult to assess.

Who is GRI for?

The GRI standards are the most widely used standards for sustainability reporting, currently used by over 10,000 reporters across more than 100 countries, and they are applicable to governments, corporations, large organizations and small organizations. They are particularly useful for tracking and reporting an organization’s efforts to reach net-zero emissions targets in their low carbon journey.

The user-friendly format also ensures the GRI standards can be adopted by subject-matter experts who may be less experienced and resourced when it comes to ESG and sustainability reporting. If an organization is not able to report in accordance with the standards (preferred), they are still able to use them to report with reference to the GRI standards, making the standards a very accessible sustainability reporting tool for organizations of all sizes at all stages of the decarbonization journey.

The GRI standards are also particularly important for multinational organizations operating across several regions with different sustainability requirements, as they are consistent, measurable and comparable and can be understood under one standardized reporting “language.”

GRI standards are relevant to a range of internal and external stakeholders who are concerned about the transparency of an organization’s impact. These stakeholders commonly include employees, regulators, policymakers and investors who all have different reasons for accessing consistent integrated ESG reports.

How does the GRI work?

The GRI standards are divided into three sections: universal, sectors and topics. This is a modular, interconnected system: All organizations use the three universal standards, but they choose the sector and topic standards that are most applicable to their circumstances. The sector standards are quite new with only one being released and three more currently in development.

The universal standards are broken into:

  • GRI 1: foundation
  • GRI 2: general disclosures
  • GRI 3: material topics

GRI 3 provides a clear process for identifying “material topics.” This starts by understanding the organization’s context, identifying actual and potential impacts, assessing the significance of those impacts, prioritizing the most significant impacts for reporting and finally determining relevant material topics.

The topic standards are organized into:

  • GRI 200s: economic topics
  • GRI 300s: environmental topics
  • GRI 400s: social topics

The universal standards have only recently been updated and were previously known as the GRI 100s. You may see either the old or new standards in reporting until 2023, when the new standards must be used.

The standards specify indicators, known as disclosures, required for transparent reporting on an organization and its impact. Each topic standard includes disclosures on the management approach and topic-specific disclosures. Management approach disclosures explore how an organization manages a material topic, the associated impacts and stakeholders’ reasonable expectations and interests.

For example, GRI 403, occupational health and safety, is a topic standard classified as a “social topic.” Within this standard are a number of disclosures.

Management approach disclosures:

  • Disclosure 403-1: Occupational health and safety management system
  • Disclosure 403-2: Hazard identification, risk assessment and incident investigation
  • Disclosure 403-3: Occupational health services
  • Disclosure 403-4: Worker participation, consultation and communication on occupational health and safety
  • Disclosure 403-5: Worker training on occupational health and safety
  • Disclosure 403-6: Promotion of worker health
  • Disclosure 403-7: Prevention and mitigation of occupational health and safety impacts directly linked by business relationships

Topic-specific disclosures:

  • Disclosure 403-8: Workers covered by an occupational health and safety management system
  • Disclosure 403-9: Work-related injuries
  • Disclosure 403-10: Work-related ill-health

The standards include requirements for each disclosure, along with guidance in developing the most effective and thorough narrative. Some disclosures have requirements that outline the information needed to report on, or instructions for how to comply with the GRI standard.

The GRI standards are structured to help an organization and its stakeholders understand the context of the report so that they can better see the significance of its impacts.

For more information, see this summary of the GRI standards.

Benefits of GRI

Through improved reporting, organizations are better able to measure, disclose, manage and understand their impacts, and identify strategic opportunities.

Clear, consistent reporting builds trust. It improves the relationship an organization has with its community, industry and own internal employees, which in turn can increase long-term market value. Investors are increasingly scrutinizing their organizations’ risk profiles in relation to sustainability by demanding clear reporting.

Sustainability reporting using the GRI standards demonstrates a future focus. While the standards are consistently reviewed to reflect an up-to-date framework, this means reports developed in accordance with the GRI standards maintain their relevance and are more easily comparable with previous reports and those of others in the industry.

Accurate, globally recognized ESG reporting is required for an organization to adhere to stakeholder and investor reporting requirements and transparency about their decarbonization efforts.

In 2019, 90% of S&P 500 companies published sustainability reports. Public companies of all sizes around the world are increasingly understanding the economic importance of structured ESG reporting, and the GRI provides a set of applicable and comparable standards to guide that reporting.

How to report to GRI

ESG software can be used to assist GRI reporting by providing accurate, consistent finance-grade data. It is particularly useful for reporting on environmental measurements such as calculating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, where quantitative data is required. Greenhouse gas accounting and sustainability reporting is a complex process that requires access to accurate, real-time and historical energy data.

GRI reporting can be difficult to consolidate if the information is siloed across different business departments, and version control can be difficult to manage if it is contained in spreadsheets. ESG reporting software removes locally managed data and creates a unified source of information. It then can provide outputs required to accurately undertake GRI reporting.

How Envizi supports the GRI framework

With Envizi’s ESG Reporting Frameworks module within the ESG Reporting solutions, GRI framework questions are available within the module, allowing you to capture data in one place and report to GRI from Envizi. The ESG Reporting Frameworks module also supports a number of other frameworks including CDP, SASB, GRESBSECR, NGER, SDG, SFDR and TCFD.

Within the module, guidance and tips are also provided alongside each question to help inform organizations of all levels of expertise on the best way to address reporting requirements. In addition, given that responses may be identical or similar across different frameworks and remain unchanged some years, historical responses can be used across different frameworks without the need for manual copy and pasting which often accompanies traditional reporting.

Reporting demonstrates a transparent commitment to working towards a more positive impact on society and the planet. The GRI standards are the most widely used sustainability reporting standards, and with the support of ESG reporting software, such as Envizi, they can be used by forward-thinking and accountable organizations to communicate their contribution to a more sustainable world.
Build your sustainability data foundation, streamline reporting and accelerate decarbonization with the IBM Envizi ESG Suite

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