What a surprise to have another visit from Dr. Sustainability this week, which was unexpected and unforeseen and completely out of the blue. The last time Dr. Sustainability visited, she made quite an impact, especially when she confirmed that Rio+ was likely to change mankind for the better. This visit, Dr. Sustainability is mulling over the new GRI G4 Exposure Draft, having read all 325 pages, and she thought that the CSR Reporting Blog readers might benefit from her insights about the implications of G4. Ever gracious and generous, Dr. Sustainability agreed to respond exclusively to CSR Reporting Blog reader questions. Here are Dr. Sustainability's G4-isms.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: We have been preparing a GRI Application Level A+ Report for some years now. We have managed to get this system to work for us. Now that G4 is imminent, we will have to make changes - include our value chain, select material issues, disclose more about our supply chain. Frankly, I am not sure we will be able to do all this. Do you think the GRI really understands how difficult G4 will be even for experienced reporters?
Dear Worried: Yes, of course the GRI understands. It's like this. There are not enough high quality reports in the world. Instead of lowering the bar, or even encouraging better performance against the current bar, the GRI has created a higher bar. This is so that, when everyone fails to reach the higher bar, everyone will love the lower bar and G3 will be reinstated and everyone will breathe a sigh of relief. As an experienced reporter, this is absolutely in your interests. Just make a mess of G4 and whoosh, G3 will be back like lightning.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: Does the new definition of boundaries in G4 mean that my next report will have to be twice as long as my prior report? I understand that the boundary has been extended.
Dear Extended: Yes, indeed. Now you have so much more reporting scope. The boundaries in your value chain are boundariless. You can now tell stories about your supplier's supplier's supplier and your customers' customers' customers. Your value chain is a hidden trove of goodies for your next report. Just make sure you add six more people to your reporting team.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: I found it very hard to read the G4 Exposure Draft because there are so many lines crossing out the text out all the way through the document. Trying to read behind the lines has given me acute conjunctivitis. Can I claim on my insurance for this condition?
Dear EyeSore: Yes, I know what you mean. After reading the G4 Exposure draft, I had a series of anxiety attacks which caused me to be very anxious. Even Bach's Rescue didn't help. I think your insurance might cover it this under the "occupational disease" section. This is good because it gives you another piece of data to disclose in the Health and Safety section of your report. And don't worry, what's behind the lines is irrelevant. It's what's between the lines that counts.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: I am an investment analyst and I have been told that, when G4 is launched, my life will change. Can you say how?
Dear Moneygrabber: When G4 is launched, and companies start reporting against the new framework, you will have so much information, of such high quality, covering all material issues and providing reams of data about supply chains, that you will have no choice but to factor this information into your investment recommendations, and say how you have done this. This will create so much additional work for you that you will probably suffer from stress. To relieve the stress you will have to have more sex, as sex is an effective stress-reliever. Having more sex will probably distract you from your work and cause you to become less productive, which will ultimately mean that you will get laid off from your job. This will send you into a deep financial crisis and your home will be repossessed. Ultimately, you will end up sleeping on park benches. So yes, G4 will change your life. It will bring you closer to nature.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: The new G4 Value Chain assessment talks about upstream and downstream impacts. Will I have to take a course in marine navigation in order to use the new G4 Framework?
Hello Sailor: No, you will not have to sail the high seas in order to use G4. But maybe you will want to go on a long voyage after you realize what you will have to do to be "In Accordance" with G4.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: I hear that G4 is abandoning Application Levels and moving to a one-size-fits-all "In Accordance" approach. Will this mean I will not be able to gain significant marketing advantage by ticking all the A boxes and adding a comment that "this is not material for our company"?
Dear Box-Ticker: Don't worry about this. In the run-up to G4, there will be lots of pressure from companies who want a way to differentiate themselves and gain marketing advantage. At the launch, there will be several versions: "In Accordance A", "In Accordance B", "In Accordance C", "In Accordance SMEs", "In Accordance The Absolute Best" and "In Accordance.. Seriously?".
Dear Dr. Sustainability: When will G4 become obsolete?
Dear Optimist: Probably before it is launched.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: I hear the GRI received 3,095 formal feedback submissions by sustainability experts, organizations and professionals on the G4 Exposure Draft. Will this feedback make a difference?
Dear Statistics: Yes, of course. Over 3,000 people made the effort to log onto the online feedback platform and type in all their answers. This has already made a difference. The online feedback technology company has made a profit and the ICT sector carbon footprint has doubled in three months.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: One of the objectives for G4 was to align the G4 Framework with the new Integrated Reporting proposals. However, I see that this has not been done. What do you think about that?
Dear NitPicker: I don't think about that.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: We are an SME and we would like to start Sustainability Reporting. We have developed a first draft which we hope is "In Accordance" with the new G4 proposals. We have identified 83 material issues across our value chain and have disclosed on each of them in full. The problem is that our report is now 3,473 pages long and every time we try to load the PDF to our website, our entire system crashes. I was wondering, is there something we should do differently?
Dear SME: Absolutely. Get a new IT person who can fix your website.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: Do you think more people will read G4 reports than read G3 reports?
Dear Reader: Yes. At least four people will read G4 reports. That's a 100% increase.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: I have studied the G4 proposed framework and believe it offers a great improvement on previous guidelines. Everything is now clearer. Materiality is emphasized, value chain is central, supply chains gain more ground, there is a degree of choice about what to report. All these are good things. My question is: will this make the planet more sustainable?
Dear Skeptic: That's a great question. After all, reports reflect sustainability performance and the positive impacts of companies. Reporting is a catalyst for improving performance. Better reports = better performance = better reports. It's that simple. Err. Isn't it?
Dear Dr. Sustainability: I am an employee of a large multinational company. Our company reports on sustainability year after year, but in reality, what happens in our company is nothing like what we read in the reports. Our workplace is awful, full of stress, low pay, internal politics, poor safety practices, no concern for employees. How will G4 change all of this?
Dear Critic: G4 won't change all of this. It will just make your reports inaccurate in a more complete way.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: How do you manage to distill the key points of G4 ? How do you manage to keep abreast of all the trends in reporting ? How do you manage to keep your knowledge so up to date ?
Dear Knowledge-Seeker: That's easy. I read the CSR Reporting Blog.
elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)