Sunday, June 28, 2009

The model GRI GRI report

The mother of all reports - the GRI's very own second 2007-2008 sustainablity report compiled in accordance with the GRI guidelines (now isn't that a surprise!) . How does the GRI GRI report stack up against its own guidelines ? Practice what they preach ? Leadership in reporting expertise ? Creative and innovative reporting ? A role model of reports ? A superb piece of communication? A win for transparency ? Judge for yourself. But whilst you are judging, here are my thoughts.

The report is written papameter by parameter, indicator by indicator. There is a methodological flow to the development of this text-book report and on the whole it works well. Uncrowded by design elements and inspiring quotations from stakeholders, this 79 pager is what it sets out to be, a report. A GRI GRI report. Level A. No point in spending time on talking about where this report applies its own guidelines. More interesting to talk about where it does not. Where it departs from GRI recommended reporting practice. I hope you agree. If you do not, skip to next post :)) If you do, please read on and then Tweet. Ha Ha

Materiality analysis
Here is what the GRI has to say about this: "Following internal discussion, it was decided that the material issues that were identified for the previous reporting period through a consultation process ..... remained material to GRI for this reporting period." Oops. Do i detect a little corner-cutting here ? The last report covered 3 years to mid 2007. Has nothing materially new happened in the last couple of years ? What about ISO26000 which threatens to move into GRI space ? What about the levels of application and use of the guidelines? What about the Sector Supplements and their application? What about robust application of the assurance processes? What about the criticisms of the GRI framework for use with SME's and non MNE's in general ? What about the impact of reporting on sustainability performance? Is there nothing at all that is materially new ? And for the leading advocate of stakeholder engagement, the "internal discussion" around materiality falls short of the textbook model process.

Another thing about the GRI's materiality analysis is that it's not an analysis. It's a list of GRI indicators that are more important than other GRI indicators. These are not material to the GRI, they are material to reporting sustainability issues. The issues which are material to the GRI as an organization should feature here. Maybe someone skipped the fine print.

The report is not assured. Why not ? Well, it should be clear from the report. The GRI GRI response to this indicator is: This report has not been subject to external assurance. Duh. The question is, and the correct response to 3.13 is the REASON this report was not assured. I assume there was one.

Everything else
Everything else in the GRI GRI report is well, GRI. It follows the guidelines in exemplary fashion. It provides data required by the indicators methodically and systematically, and is a model for GRI reporting. The most important thing of course is that it IS a report. By which i mean, that there are so many do-as-we-say-ers in the reporting space that do not issues reports themselves, that the GRI has put our money where their mouth is and are doing-as they-say. Good move.

The interesting other thing is why almost no-one else reports like this ? It seems to me that this is actually an easier way to report, as it requires little creativity and innovative reporting pyrotechnics, and sticks to the basic facts as required. A kind of compliance approach. Why do almost all the 3,000 + reporters each year decide to do it so differently? Perhaps this is the harder way? It means that you cannot make up in creativity for what you lack in data, or fool the readership by stories when EC, EN, LA, HR and SO demand numbers. One answer might lie in the fact that the report is not just about indicators, it's about the soul of the organization, its not just about facts, its about values. And it's hard to reflect the style, tone and feel of an organization in a series of bullet points. But what the GRI GRI report lacks in photoshop, it makes up for in professionalism and integrity.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel, and an organizational stakeholder of the GRI and committed to promoting the use of the GRI reporting framework. Visit our website at:


UKati said...

Hi, Elaine, its me again, reading some of the older posts as well (I have found your blog today). Your review of GRI GRI report raises the question, if the Guidelines are a tool or a target? If you mechanically go through the indicators one-by-one, than it is a target to fulfil. For me, it should be a tool, that helps you tell your story in a way that it can be compared to others, and have it told in a relatively interesting way. also, if you go through a list, it is more difficult to present the themes in an integrated format. When you talk about structure of the company, you can add equla opportunities within the managers right the way, etc. For me, going through the indicators lacks the need for an integrated approach. But, I think GRI is in a very difficult position, because the HAVE TO produce a report (like I think Ethical corporation should as well...have read your debate with Tobias). we are only a company of two, but we will publish our report next year. It also helps us face the difficulties our clients probably face. Good posts! My blog is on GRI issues (an other one on sewing :-), but only in Hungarian, sorry. It is aimed at Hungarian readers who want to get a better understanding of GRI.But I hope we will have good discussions here!

elaine said...

Hello Katalin, hey, am so glad you found the blog. You are absolutely right of course. The GRI guidelines are a tool. The GRI used it as a checklist in the most mechanical way possible. Better than nothing, but certainly not reflecting the spirit of sustainability reporting, and not exploiting the opportunities to tell the sustainability stories which precede the numbers. How do you put spirit in the guidelines ? Kudos on intention to publish your report. And i am so intrigued by your work and writngs that i am tempted to learn hungarian, but realistically, that wont happen in the near future... so in the meantime, please keep sending in your great insights in English! Perhaps i will see you at the GRI conference in May 2010? elaine

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