Climate Essentials

What is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)?

Raphael GüllerCofounder and CPO
Climate Essentials
01 June 2023

The Global Reporting Initiative was created in 1997 from the merger of the Coalition for Environmental Responsible Economies (CERES) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

It is an independent international organization that pioneered the development of sustainability reporting guidelines and standards. It has evolved into the most widely adopted framework – considered global best practice – for ESG reporting, facilitating the transparent communication of an organization's economic, environmental, and social performance. With its comprehensive set of guidelines and metrics, the GRI enables companies to measure, analyze, communicate and report their impact on critical sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, governance and society.

At the core of the GRI's framework lies the belief that sustainability reporting should be voluntary yet standardized, ensuring consistent and comparable information across industries and geographical locations. The GRI Standards, which are updated regularly to reflect evolving sustainability challenges, offer organizations a flexible and adaptable reporting framework, to assess their impacts and disclose relevant information to stakeholders.

How does the GRI and the UNGC work together? 

The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) have established a collaborative partnership with a shared goal of advancing sustainability and responsible business practices. They are jointly committed to reinforcing the private sector's contribution to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The collaboration focuses on several key objectives, including supporting companies in measuring and reporting their policies and activities aligned with the SDGs, promoting best reporting practices among SDG-engaged organizations, and involving small and medium-sized enterprises worldwide in the SDGs. 

Both organizations are dedicated to providing tools and resources to their networks, such as the SDG Compass, and conducting localized training initiatives to enhance reporting on sustainability practices.

What is the Global Sustainability Standards Board? 

The Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB) is the independent standard-setting body of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Its primary role is to develop and maintain the GRI Standards, which are widely recognized as a comprehensive framework for sustainability reporting. The GSSB is responsible for ensuring that the GRI Standards (outlined below) remain relevant, rigorous, and aligned with international best practices. Comprised of a diverse group of experts from various sectors, the GSSB oversees the development of new standards, updates existing ones, and provides guidance on their implementation.

What are the GRI Standards? 

The GRI Standards are a set of guidelines developed by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) to help organizations measure, manage, and report their sustainability performance. These standards provide a comprehensive framework that covers a wide range of economic, environmental, and social topics, allowing businesses to effectively disclose their impacts and efforts in a standardized and transparent manner. 

The GRI Standards offer a flexible yet structured approach, allowing your organization to select and prioritize the topics most relevant to your industry and stakeholders. With a focus on materiality, the standards will guide you in identifying and reporting on the issues that are most significant to your operations and the communities in which you operate. 

Who are the GRI Standards for? 

The GRI Standards are the first global standards, designed for organizations of all types, sizes, and sectors that aim to measure, manage, and report their sustainability performance. They are applicable to businesses, non-profit organizations, government entities, and other entities operating in both the private and public sectors. The GRI Standards cater to the needs of various stakeholders, including investors, customers, employees, regulators, and communities, who seek reliable and comparable information about an organization's environmental, social, and governance (ESG) impacts. Whether you are a multinational corporation, a small and medium-sized enterprise, a governmental agency, or a non-profit organization, the GRI Standards provide a flexible and adaptable framework to assess your sustainability initiatives and disclose relevant information.

What is the difference between the GRI and the TCFD? 

The GRI and the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) are both important frameworks for reporting on sustainability and climate-related information, but they have different focuses. GRI provides a comprehensive and widely used framework ESG reporting, while TCFD focuses specifically on climate-related financial risks and opportunities. It provides recommendations for organizations to disclose information related to their climate governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics. While GRI covers a broader spectrum of sustainability reporting, TCFD offers a targeted approach to climate-related disclosures, emphasizing the financial implications of climate change.

What is the difference between the GRI and the CDP? 

The CDP differs from the GRI, as it primarily focuses on collecting and disclosing information related to climate change. It requests companies to report their carbon emissions, climate risks, and climate-related strategies. CDP's emphasis on climate-related data allows investors and stakeholders to assess organizations' climate change resilience and progress towards emissions reduction targets. On the other hand, the GRI covers a broader scope of sustainability reporting.

What are the benefits of applying the GRI standards?

When you apply the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards to your sustainability reporting, your organization can reap a multitude of benefits, including:

  • Clear and internationally recognized framework: The GRI standards provide you with a well-established and widely recognized framework for measuring, managing, and communicating your sustainability performance effectively.

  • Enhanced credibility and trust: By following the GRI standards, you can enhance the quality and credibility of your sustainability reports, instilling trust and confidence in stakeholders such as investors, customers, and employees.

  • Materiality focus: The structured approach of the standards enables you to identify and prioritize the most relevant sustainability topics for your industry, ensuring that your reporting focuses on material issues that truly impact your organization and its stakeholders.

  • Transparency and accountability: Adhering to the GRI standards showcases your commitment to transparency and accountability. It demonstrates your efforts in mitigating risks, addressing social and environmental challenges, and fosters a culture of openness within your organization.

  • Stakeholder engagement: The GRI standards facilitate better engagement with different stakeholder groups by providing a comprehensive framework for reporting on your organization's impacts. This engagement can lead to valuable feedback, improved relationships, and enhanced understanding of stakeholder expectations.

  • Alignment with global sustainability goals: Applying the GRI standards allows you to align your business practices with global sustainability goals, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), demonstrating your dedication to contributing to a more sustainable future.

  • Competitive advantage: By implementing the GRI standards, you can differentiate your organization in the market, showcasing your commitment to sustainability and responsible business practices, which can lead to a competitive advantage.

What are the different categories of GRI Standards?

The reporting standards consist of different modules, including the Universal Standards, Sector Standards, and Topic Standards, which collectively provide a comprehensive framework. 

The Universal Standards – These are applicable to all organizations across sectors and cover general information about the organization and its management of material topics. To align with the GRI Standards, organizations are required to report all necessary information specified in the Universal Standards. 

The Sector Standards – These focus on material topics specific to particular industries, with GRI developing standards for 40 sectors with significant impact. These standards provide industry-specific descriptions and impacts, helping reporting organizations narrow down their material topics. 

The Topic Standards – These outline the disclosures for each material topic and include required and recommended metrics and indicators. Organizations aiming to comply with the GRI Standards must, at minimum, report the required disclosures for each material topic. Together, these modules provide a comprehensive structure for organizations to report their sustainability performance in a transparent and standardized manner.

What are the GRI reporting principles?

When drafting your sustainability report, it is important to keep in mind the reporting principles outlined in the GRI global standards. These principles aim to ensure a high-quality representation of your organization's sustainability performance at global level. As you prepare your report, remember to:

  • Accuracy: Ensure that the information presented is correct, accurate, and sufficiently detailed.

  • Balance: Report information in an unbiased manner, providing a fair representation of both positive and negative impacts.

  • Clarity: Make the information accessible and understandable to your readers.

  • Comparability: Select, compile, and report information consistently, enabling meaningful comparisons over time.

  • Completeness: Disclose a sufficient level of information to assess your organization's impacts comprehensively.

  • Sustainability Context: Present information about your organization's impacts within the broader context of sustainable development.

  • Timeliness: Disclose information on a regular schedule and in a timely manner to support decision-making.

  • Verifiability: Ensure that the quality of disclosed information can be externally examined and verified.

How do you report in accordance with the GRI Standards? 

To guide you through the process of utilizing the GRI Standards for your sustainability reporting, follow these steps:

  1. Determine data availability: Consider your organization's internal capabilities to fulfill the requirements of the Universal Standards, Sector Standards, and Topic Standards.

  2. Apply the Reporting Principles: Align your reporting approaches with the six GRI principles outlined above.

  3. Assess Materiality: Identify and prioritize material topics based on their relevance to your organization and the real and potential impacts of your operations. 

  4. Collect and Disclose Information: Measure, organize, and make sense of the data according to the specific disclosures required by the GRI Standards. Implement robust data collection processes and ensure the accuracy and completeness of the reported information.

  5. Compile the GRI Content Index: Once all disclosures are complete, create a content index that complies with the specified requirements, indicating whether a disclosure is partial or complete and providing clear references to the corresponding page(s) in your report.

  6. Publish Disclosures: Share your GRI-aligned report with your stakeholders, either in digital or print format. Ensure accessibility and transparency in the dissemination of your sustainability information.

  7. Register Your GRI Report: Notify GRI about your use of the GRI Standards in developing your report. If your report aligns with the GRI Standards, it can receive a verified status in the submission system. Note that the quality of disclosures does not impact the registration outcome.
    By following these steps, you can effectively navigate the process of utilizing the GRI Standards for your sustainability reporting, ensuring transparency, credibility, and adherence to global reporting best practices.

Ready to get started with GRI reporting? Find out more about how Sweep can help. 


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