GRI, or the Global Reporting Initiative, was established in 1997 after the Exxon Valdez oil spill caused significant public outcry. To address environmental concerns, socially responsible investors, environmental groups, and nonprofits formed Ceres, creating the Valdez Principles (later known as the Ceres Principles) for companies to support environmental protection.
In the early 2000s, GRI developed its first reporting guidelines (G1) in collaboration with Dr. Allen White from Tellus Institute, setting the foundation for the global framework on ESG reporting. GRI expanded its scope to include social, economic, and governance issues and became an independent global institution under the United Nations Environment Program in 2002.
Today, GRI is a widely used system for disclosing ESG performance, with over 10,000 reporters in 100 countries.
The GRI standards are widely adopted for sustainability reporting, serving a diverse range of users. With over 10,000 reporters in 100 countries, they are utilized by governments, corporations, large and small organizations. These standards are particularly valuable for tracking progress toward net-zero emissions targets in the journey toward lower carbon impact.
The user-friendly format makes the GRI standards accessible to subject-matter experts who may be new to ESG and sustainability reporting. Even if full compliance is challenging, organizations can still use the standards as a reference, making them suitable for entities of all sizes at any stage of their decarbonization efforts.
For multinational organizations operating across regions with varying sustainability requirements, the GRI standards offer a consistent and comparable framework, facilitating a standardized reporting "language."
The relevance of GRI standards extends to internal and external stakeholders, including employees, regulators, policymakers, and investors, who seek transparent insights into an organization's impact. Their consistent and integrated ESG reports cater to the varied needs of these stakeholders.
The GRI standards operate through a three-tiered system, consisting of universal, sector, and topic standards. All organisations use the universal standards (GRI 1, GRI 2, and GRI 3) as a foundation, while they select sector and topic standards most relevant to their circumstances. The universal standards have recently been updated and were formerly known as the GRI 100s.
The topic standards (GRI 200s for economic topics, GRI 300s for environmental topics, and GRI 400s for social topics) specify disclosures required for transparent reporting. Each topic standard includes management approach disclosures and topic-specific disclosures, providing comprehensive information on an organisation's impact.
The GRI standards are structured as follows:
1. GRI Universal Standards: Applicable to all organisations, they outline requirements and principles for using the GRI Standards (GRI 1), reporting on the organisation itself (GRI 2), and disclosing material topics (GRI 3). Recently updated in 2021, these standards now integrate human rights and due diligence, enhance clarity on key concepts, and improve usability.
2. GRI Sector Standards: Currently covering industries like coal and oil & gas, these standards are designed for 40 sectors, beginning with high-impact industries such as oil and gas, agriculture, and fishing.
3. GRI Topic Standards: Provide specific disclosure guidance on various topics like waste, health and safety, and tax reporting. GRI 3, among the universal standards, guides organisations in identifying "material topics" by understanding their context, assessing impacts, and prioritising significant impacts for reporting.
By adhering to the GRI standards, companies can transparently communicate their impacts to stakeholders, while stakeholders themselves, including investors, analysts, and policymakers, can use the information to assess risks, benchmark performance, and make well-informed decisions.
GRI standards are not universally mandatory, but their adoption is becoming increasingly widespread due to various government regulations and market demands. More than 160 policies in over 60 countries already reference or require GRI reporting, and GRI is actively involved in developing new sustainability reporting standards for the European Union.
The use of GRI standards in sustainability reporting enhances transparency regarding ESG-related financial risks and value creation, leading to more efficient market functioning. As a result, an increasing number of capital market regulators and stock exchanges are also encouraging or mandating the use of GRI standards in reporting practices.
While GRI is a widely used ESG reporting standard, it can complement other sustainability frameworks like SASB, CDP, and TCFD. GRI supports initiatives for globally consistent disclosure guidelines. Its uniqueness lies in its independent, multi-stakeholder process governed by the GSSB and the neutral stance from industry or stakeholder influence. Endorsed by policymakers and regulators worldwide, GRI focuses on economic, environmental, and social impacts. It offers comprehensive sustainability reporting standards for all ESG impacts, meeting diverse stakeholder needs and applicable to any organisation.
The adoption of GRI standards offers several advantages for organisations engaged in sustainability reporting. By using these standards, organisations can enhance their ability to measure, disclose, and manage their impacts, leading to a better understanding of their environmental and social performance and identification of strategic opportunities.
Furthermore, clear and consistent reporting builds trust with stakeholders, including the community, industry peers, and internal employees, resulting in increased long-term market value. Investors are increasingly demanding transparent reporting to assess an organisation's risk profile related to sustainability, making GRI-compliant reporting more crucial.
GRI standards demonstrate a forward-looking approach, as they are regularly updated to stay current with evolving sustainability practices. This ensures that reports developed in accordance with GRI standards remain relevant and easily comparable to previous reports and those of other organisations in the same industry.
Accurate and globally recognised ESG reporting is essential for organisations to meet stakeholder and investor reporting requirements and to demonstrate transparency in their decarbonisation efforts.
The growing adoption of GRI standards is evident, with a significant number of public companies, including 90% of S&P 500 companies, publishing sustainability reports. This widespread acceptance highlights the increasing recognition of the economic importance of structured ESG reporting, and GRI standards provide a comprehensive and standardised framework to guide organisations in their reporting practices.
As noted on the GRI website (here), the MOU, announced in March, commits the two organisations to seeking to coordinate work programmes and standard-setting activities. The IFRS Foundation and GRI recognise the need to further harmonise the sustainability reporting landscape at an international level. IFRS Sustainability Disclosure Standards and GRI Standards can be viewed as two interconnected reporting pillars that address distinct perspectives, which can together form a comprehensive corporate reporting regime for the disclosure of sustainability information.
In May, technical representatives from both organisations outlined activities that could provide the necessary clarification and alignment. Among the initiatives discussed were:
Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has emerged as a leading and widely adopted system for sustainability reporting. Established in response to environmental concerns following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, GRI has evolved into a comprehensive framework that covers economic, environmental, and social impacts. Its three-tiered structure, including universal, sector, and topic standards, ensures organisations can transparently disclose and manage their impacts.
The GRI standards are not mandatory globally, but their increasing adoption is driven by government regulations, market demands, and the need for transparent reporting on ESG-related risks and value creation. GRI's independent and multi-stakeholder process, along with its global focus, sets it apart from other ESG reporting frameworks.
Overall, GRI's widespread acceptance and its role in facilitating transparent and globally recognised ESG reporting highlights its significance in advancing sustainable practices and fostering long-term value for organisations and stakeholders alike.