The GRI is an international, independent standards organisation that issues one of the most well-known standards for ESG reporting.
Some other commonly used ESG standards are ISO 26000, SASB, and CDP.
ESG reporting standards provide specific and detailed information for disclosing sustainability information.
Companies will typically announce the standard that they are using for their reports, but there is currently no universal monitoring, reporting and verification system for sustainability and ESG reporting that can help examine with certainty if the standards have been applied well or the communicated disclosures are valid and true.
Note that the GRI does have a Report Registration System, but this system does not check reported content; it only scans for the correctness of the language and whether the information disclosed is correctly aligned with the registered report.
History of the GRI and GRI Standards
The GRI was created in 1997 by two non-profits, Ceres and the Tellus Institute, along with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The aim of the GRI as a standard setting organisation is to enable companies or third parties to assess environmental impact in a cohesive, rigorous way that is widely accepted by others.
The GRI Standards were the first globally accepted standard for sustainability reporting, and are set by the Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB), an independent operating entity comprised of 15 members.
Some key dates for the establishment and growth of the GRI Standard include:
1997: Founded following the Exxon Valdez oil spill
2000: Released first full draft of the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines
2008: GRI establishes their Certified Training Partner Program
2016: The GRI Standards launched
2019-2021: GRI launches the Sector Program, Tax Standard, Waste Standard, GRI Sector Standard, and the Revised Universal Standards
GRI Standards today
Response to demands for clarity in sustainability reporting
In September of 2020, the GRI joined with the SASB, CDP, CDSB, and IIRC to develop a single set of comprehensive and global reporting standards.
The GRI and SASB also started a joint project in the same year, focusing on communication materials to help stakeholders better understand how to use GRI Standards and SASB Standards concurrently.
They have since published A Practical Guide to Sustainability Reporting Using GRI and SASB Standards in April 2021.
GRI Standards growth trends
Despite recent push to develop a single set of globally accepted standards, the GRI Standards are still the most widely used sustainability reporting standard.
The 2020 KPMG Survey of Sustainability Reporting found that across the world’s largest 250 companies (the G250), the GRI Standards is the only sustainability reporting standard with widespread global adoption.
They also report that as of 2020, 73% of the G250 and 67% of the N100 use the GRI Standards.
However, given the trend towards consolidation and collaboration between the leading sustainability reporting standards, in the future we will most likely see standards being used in synergy, rather than in competition.
Limits and Controversy
Since its introduction, the GRI Standards have been extremely influential.
However, as with all sustainability standards, it faces the challenge of creating a universally applicable Standard while keeping the reporting process straightforward.
Some barriers to the widespread adoption of the GRI Standards include the general lack of cohesiveness among the different sustainability standards and the necessary interdependence among elements of the GRI Standards i.e using the GRI Standards only partially may not be that useful).
The GRI is limited in that it is a topic level reporting framework; meaning that despite the modular nature of the GRI Standards, GRI guidance is still less specific than several other reporting frameworks.