Thursday, July 21, 2011

GRI in the USA - reporting here we come!

I attended today  a GRI webinar for Organizational Stakeholders in which Mike Wallace, who heads up the GRI US Focal Point, presented an update of what is happening with GRI US. I was very impressed. (Disclosure: I don't impress that easily).

GRI Mike is taking a very strategic approach to advancing sustainability reporting in the US and it sounds as though it will make a difference. With 90% of US companies NOT reporting, clearly there is a big opportunity. A considered, strategic approach to broadening awareness, providing platforms to help companies get on the reporting map and reinforcing the strong business case for reporting will surely deliver a return for the GRI.. and for sustainability. 

The US actually is the largest country in terms of GRI Organizational Stakeholders with 88 members.

The Top Ten GRI Organizational Stakeholder country memberships
Reporting in the US and Canada has been on the increase for the past few years. Using data contained in the GRI Reports List, and analyzing only those reports published through to end July each year, the picture is as follows:

Data based on the GRI Reports list updated as of 20th July 2011
In total, there were 183 reports published in the US and Canada in 2009 and 250 in 2011. Assuming the mid year trend holds true, we should expect this number to reach over 300 by end 2011. The GRI strategy to ensure this happens, increasing the quantity and the quality of reporting in 2011 and in  years to come, includes:

  • Establishing a very strong foundation in the US. You will probably know that the US Focal  Point was established through the assistance of the Big Four Acocunting firms Deloitte, Ernst and Young, KPMG and PWC and is hosted in the facilities of The Conference Board. 
  • Leveraging the GRI Training Partners program to reach a large number of organizations. The world's largest GRI Training Event was recently held in Cleveland by BrownFlynn. 
  • Speaking at conferences, webinars and many other venues
  • Closely monitoring press coverage - 844 articles in the US press in the first quarter of 2011.
  • Closely monitoring US interest in the GRI website - 656 G3 Framework downloads in the US in the first quarter of 2011.
  • Working closely with Professional, Industry and Sustainability organizations to leverage their memberships. Working from a lean resource base in the US, the approach is to get to much larger groups via their existing network mechanisms. Such groups include ASSE (The American Society of Safety Engineers with 80,000 members) , USGBC (the US Green Building Council and the LEED certification program) , NAEM (a prominent organization advancing EHS practices), ICMM (The International Council on Mining and Metals) and more.
  • Focus on connecting with government authorities who have massive reach and power to convert markets such as the SEC, the GSA (the US General Services Administration, which, according to Mike has bigger purchasing power than the largest corporations), the US Army, the Postal Service and more. 
  • Development of a US Sector Leaders program. This is a brilliant approach to which Mosaic and Clorox have already signed up. It means working the market sector by sector and engaging one company in each sector to support familiarization with the sector and help the GRI expand reporting in that sector. The idea is to have 10 - 15 Sector Leaders by the end of next year.  
There can't be many bases left uncovered in this approach and I have no doubt that results will justify the effort. Remember though, that any company starting a first reporting journey may take well over a year to deliver their first report, so there will be a delay factor in the number of reports published.

The GRI approach in the US is to focus squarely on the business case and there is ever more data which suggests that more attention is being paid to reporting by investors, more analysis is being done of sustainability reporting data and companies who advance sustainability practices, including reporting, are outperforming their peers. Mike Wallace shared an excellent presentation with some useful data  which you can find on Slideshare:

The issue that didn't get much airtime in the discussion (and I wasn't quick enough to ask the question) is about quality of reporting. It's important to increase the quantity of reports but no less important to improve their quality. The extensive training programs that the GRI is promoting will certainly help, but for reporting to be meaningful, Sustainability Reports have to be more transparent (less than 20% of reports published in the USA and Canada in the last few years meet Application Level A requirements), more closely aligned with the GRI framework (even checked and verified reports are often lacking in rigor and accuracy in their adherence to the framework) and more credible (less than 10% of reports are externally verified). This may be the bigger challenge, though there is no doubt that getting companies on the reporting track is the key.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices   Contact me via on Twitter or via my business website (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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