Monday, June 24, 2013

G4: First the conference. Then the movie. Now the book. Coming soon.

The G4 Book, entitled "Understanding G4", is on target to be published in July by DōSustainability, the sustainability publishing company that has developed the most fabulous range of short sharp sustainability shots for people who need to know but have no time to do all the research. My book, Sustainability Reporting for SMEs - Competitive Advantage through Transparency was published earlier this year as one of the DōSustainability DōShorts series."Understanding G4" is my newest offering, bringing you a simple, easy-to-read, eye-level guide to navigating G4 in an accessible manner, relevant for reporters and report-users.

First there was the conference. Then there was the movie. Now .. here's the book. Coming soon!

Just to give you a taste of what's to come..... here is my introduction "Understanding G4", which explains why it's relevant and why it will help.

Why pay for a book on G4, the new Sustainability Reporting Framework launched by the Global Reporting (GRI) in initiative in May 2013, when all the materials are freely downloadable from the GRI website? Check it out. Take a minute to navigate to and look for the G4 symbol on the homepage, click once, and you have immediate access to the two books which form the new G4 guidelines: the book of Reporting Principles and Standard Disclosures (94 pages) and the Implementation Manual (266 pages). Both books are downloadable, for free, as many times as you want. No password needed. In addition, there are many writers on the internet, including myself, who have published summaries of the G4 changes and what they mean for reporters. I collected at least 15 different, mostly helpful, articles and summaries, in the two weeks following the G4 launch. This is a wealth of free advice and helpful in understanding what G4 means. So why pay? Why do you need this book and how will it help you? What value does Understanding G4 add?
Here's the thing. Even if you decide to invest a day in wading through the report-techno-babble-speak of 360 pages of GRI guideline manuals, you still may be left a little perplexed as to how G4 will actually help you advance along your reporting journey. Maybe you already tried. You may be able to appreciate the primary technical changes, such as the fact that materiality is now center-stage and determines much of the report content, and that governance and remuneration disclosures have become impossibly detailed, but the overall value of G4 may still escape you. I'll be even a little bolder. It will escape you. The G4 manuals, detailed and orderly though they may be, do not help you answer the question: Should my organization start using the G4 guidelines, and if so, when and how?
This book aims to help you answer that question. But that's not all. Reporting companies or aspiring reporters are not the only ones affected by the G4 guidelines. There are stakeholders. Readers of reports. Assurers of reports. Users and students of reports. What does G4 mean for all these groups? How will customers, consumers, employees, investors and financial analysts understand the G4 report? I maintain, as you will see, that G4 is quite some departure from the box-ticking, shopping-list, PR-oriented, mechanical approach most companies have taken with regard to Sustainability Reporting. Readers of G4 reports need to approach Sustainability Reporting with a different paradigm. G4 reports, done well, will be very different from G3 reports, and offer a different kind of value to stakeholders who use them. More value in many ways, less value in others. In any case, G4 report users must substantively reset their expectations. This book will help G4 report users do this, and know what they should be able to expect from a G4 report, and what they should not expect.
I will not hide that my prime motivation in writing this book is to advance the rapid uptake of the G4 Sustainability Reporting Framework, by offering a simple and straightforward guide to help companies adopt or adapt, in a straightforward, no frills and no techno-babble way, while ensuring stakeholders get what they are trying to do. While there are some omissions, inadequacies and even oddities in G4, I view the new framework as a major leap forward for Sustainability Reporting. I believe it elevates Sustainability Reporting to a very serious platform which is right at the heart of the way business gets done, and holds tangible advantages for reporters and report-users, as long as all are on the same page in terms of what to expect and how apply the G4 Framework with diligence, intelligence, integrity and a genuine desire to advance sustainable business in a sustainable society on a sustainable planet.
There's more. G4 is the future. It will have a life of at least 7 years, maybe more. Now that G4 is out there, G3 is history. Who wants to report on sustainability using an anachronous framework? Doing so projects low-capacity for change, low adaptability, agility and responsiveness and this will negatively impact the G3-clingers-on during the two year transition period. G4 is here. Companies that take the early-adopter approach will be admired, and the laggers will be punished. This book is a way for me to help early adoption and show companies that, while a shift is needed, and beneficial, it is by no means an impossible leap into the darkness.
G4 has been largely positively received by the global crowd of analytical professionals who have taken time to review and pronounce on the key changes. Most recognize it as helping support our advance toward sustainable business. There has been a range of commentaries ranging from the frenetically (and in some cases, unjustly) critical to the warmly embracing, with the optimistically cautious in between. The majority of writers have addressed the technical changes of G4 versus its predecessor framework, but few have gone beyond the detail to provide a true assessment of the meaning of the changes and the outcomes they are designed to deliver for reporting organizations and report users. This book is no less about the technicalities of G4 as it is about the meaning and impact of G4. Of course, we'll cover some detail, but my main objective is to help drive the paradigm change and not the indicator-by-indicator change. This book should help drive home the why and how of G4 and not only the what.
As I write, I am already working on two G4 reports for clients, in my capacity as a sustainability consultant and reporter. I like it. It's clearer. It seems more meaningful. It seems like a new and refreshing challenge. I have realized that G4 helps me as a consultant add value in the reporting process - beyond just helping companies to articulate their sustainability messages and tick the right GRI boxes, I now feel that I have a more relevant and influential role in helping companies reflect the right things as well as reflect them in the right way. I feel G4 gives me a more compelling justification to urge my clients into a process-oriented approach to sustainability management and reporting, rather than being a near passive recipient of a range of materials that need to be copywritten into a coherent message, even if there is little substance behind the stories, helping companies to smooth over the cracks and gaps. For consultants, G4 is a much more favorable platform for influence and support and improves the value we offer to our clients.
Distilling this down into my specific objectives in writing this book, which I hope will add value, there are five key points:
Understanding G4 is designed to:
  • Make G4 more accessible and practical for report writers and users
  • Align expectations of G4 reports for writers and users
  • Promote a rapid, quality uptake of G4 in the context of a new reporting paradigm
  • Help reporting consultants deliver greater value to reporting companies
  • Give readers value (for money) in a form not currently available elsewhere.
This book will not avoid your needing to open and use the GRI G4 Manuals, but it is my hope that it distils down all the main points into a short, easy-to-understand guide which will help both experienced and novice reporters get on the G4 road.

We had the conference. Then the movie. Now The G4 book. Coming soon to an online bookstore near you!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via   or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

1 comment:

Bushra said...

How Exciting Elaine!!
With your sharp wit and writing flair, I am hoping G4 would be much more palatable :)

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