Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A new era of collaboration and innovation for GRI

GRI this month welcomes a new Chief Executive, Michael Meehan

GRI's announcement states:

Mr. Meehan’s appointment comes at a crucial juncture for GRI and for sustainability disclosures. In an evolving sustainability reporting landscape, Mr. Meehan will lead GRI in working with new methodologies such as those on natural capital and around integrated reporting, and will drive GRI’s collaboration with global reporting frameworks. He will guide the organization in achieving its mission of making sustainability reporting standard practice worldwide, and promoting the role of sustainability disclosures in addressing global sustainability challenges.

Sounds like Michael is going to have a lot on his plate. And certainly, he has a strong legacy left by Ernst Ligteringen who has done a sterling job leading GRI in the face of many challenges over the past 12 years. After chatting with Michael, I am left with optimism that he will know how to embrace the value that GRI has created while skillfully navigating new themes in the zeitgeist of sustainable development and the needs of sustainability disclosure. It's a complex map, and the sort of practical entrepreneurial spirit, driven by clarity of vision and collaborative orientation that Michael Meehan brings, seems to be the right mix. I wish MM warm congratulations on his appointment and good luck as he takes up residence in GRI's Amsterdam hub. 

As Michael takes up his role, I am sure the word strategy will feature quite a lot in the first few weeks and months. I am sure that everyone will be wanting to know what his priorities are, goals, targets, new ways of doing things, more of this, less of that, new broom and all that. I expect there will be quite a few who have some advice and recommendations, seeing a new chief as a new opportunity to get some things straight and promote an agenda. Allen White was top-speed off the mark in an open letter to MM published in the Guardian (I always wondered about the point of open letters...seems a bit oxymoronish to me) in which he lays down his priorities for the new boss. I expect there will be plenty more open, closed and ajar letters that attempt to influence the new boy on the block as he scans the landscape. However, for me, what's more important than giving Michael Meehan my views about where he should lead GRI, is getting to understand who he is. I am interested in knowing more about what's important to Michael and what motivates him, because that will influence what he does at GRI. (Anyone who doesn't like ice cream, for example, would be a complete non-starter, as far as I am concerned. Happily, this is not the case with Michael Meehan).

I was privileged to have some time to chat with Michael on the phone today...and am pleased to be able to introduce him to the CSR Reporting Blog readers, and share a bit about his thinking as he takes up his new role.   

Michael Meehan At A Glance
Michael or Mike? Michael
Born in? Antigonish, Scottish Gaelic: Am Baile Mór; "The Big Town" but we called it antigonowhere.
Star sign? Scorpio
Top breakfast food? Dutch waffles (called Stroopwafels in Holland)
Last movie you saw? Whatever was playing on the plane last time
Currently reading? Stacks of organizational material about GRI
Most like about Amsterdam? Cycling
Fave social media channel? Google + because I need way more than 140 characters to express myself.
Fave wine? Amarone wine cause it’s got the grit. Not filtered. There are twigs and stuff at the bottom but it tastes great.
Fave place to scuba dive? Scapa Flow.
Fave TV show? Don’t even remember the last time I watched TV
Fave Superhero? Underdog
Fave ice cream flavor? Moose Tracks. Best one going.
Scared of? My kids not knowing what I do for a living.
One thing most people don't know about me is….. In a former life I was actually a scuba diving teacher.

Michael Meehan and what's important

What's most important to you as you take up your new role?
What's most important to me, I think, is the same as what's important to most of us. We are all working to the same goal of a sustainable future.

The reason I am here is to help strengthen GRI's role as a driver and integrator of sustainability disclosure. The reporting landscape has changed, not necessarily unexpectedly, but it has changed. It is shifting rapidly, and that's a good thing. GRI is moving toward a standard-setting approach. This is an evolutionary step that GRI has been considering for some time. The emergence of other frameworks is also evolutionary. The perception out there is that these frameworks compete. But they do not. There is no competing version of materiality – there are different internal contexts that may apply, but this is not competition. 

The thing that differentiates GRI is that it is a strong network that we can leverage to increase collaboration and innovation to create new frameworks. There is a perception is that more frameworks are bad. I don't see it that way. More frameworks are good. We want to see more frameworks that help corporations manage governance and disclosure more effectively in ways that move them forward. GRI has always been that network in the middle that helps things come together.. a sort of backbone of sustainability disclosure, holistically capturing all of the universe of things in CSR reporting that need to be addressed. No one else is doing this. My interest is to strengthen that backbone to improve collaboration and facilitate innovation. We can learn from industries – such as the technology industry – that has done this well and apply those learnings to the sustainability disclosure landscape. GRI is an inclusive framework. We can build on this.

Who are the key stakeholders that you will be looking to engage and work with as you take up your new role?
The world of stakeholders, for GRI, is expansive and we have to move forward on several fronts as we target to strengthen our collaboration and innovation in sustainability disclosure. We will set our sights in working more closely on the labor and human rights side, and supporting new regulatory initiatives relating to reporting, while continuing to build our international leadership. I'll be reviewing the excellent relationships that GRI has maintained so far and looking to accelerate and broaden the momentum in areas that support improved collaboration and innovation.

What has been your interaction with GRI to date?
I have been familiar with GRI for ages. In fact, early on in my career, I invented one of the first carbon management platforms, to help companies calculate and manage their carbon footprint. This was part of the emerging sustainability disclosure world at that time. The first things clients would ask was: how does this fit with reporting frameworks such as GRI?  That was my first taste of sustainability reporting - using a data collection and reporting framework to help companies improve their impacts. 

What do you see as the biggest opportunities for expansion/acceleration of sustainability reporting? 
The number of reporting entities is increasing rapidly. There's no doubt about that. At the same time, there are concerns about the quality of reporting. Part of our role at GRI is to help drive not only widespread acceptance but also help improve the quality of reporting overall. That's one opportunity. Another opportunity is in the area of helping remove the confusion that exists in the area of competitive frameworks. Other frameworks for sustainability disclosure understand the need for collaboration but from the outside, this looks like competition. I have already spoken to the leadership of several other frameworks and I hear a genuine desire to collaborate. We have to build on this desire and make collaboration more apparent and transparent to all those who are watching what we do and are affected by what we do. This challenge has been met time and time again in other industries. It can be done.

What are the specific skills you bring that will be of most use to moving GRI forward in the next phase?
One of the key things is related to my point above. One of the areas I specialize in is helping markets come together. One of the things I love most is being in a place at the time when everything starts to coalesce and helping it happen. I have experience in this area. It's what I find most challenging and most rewarding. There may be lots of different interests but everything has the same goal. That's the skill set that I bring to the table, and that's my focus. The outcome is for GRI to get through it with a stronger backbone. The work we are doing on standards is a part of that. We need to focus more on how people are reporting, how we interconnect with other frameworks and how we define the architecture of the reporting landscape. GRI is the only de facto sustainability metrics framework in the world. We can play a very significant role here.

The second thing that I bring is my experience with developing and using technology. The ability of organizations to capture data and information in reports is now facilitated through technology. At one time, it was impossible. Now, technology enables you to get data very quickly, cut it up in different ways and reuse it in different formats to meet different reporting requirements. A GRI report is an incredibly robust source of data and this fits very well with many aspects of corporate governance. I believe I can help advance the use of technology in reporting that will help companies become more efficient in the way they report and also enhance innovation in the reporting market place.

What can we count on from you as GRI's new chief exec?
You can count on my mantra: collaboration and innovation. I'll be looking to drive better outcomes for GRI and for all of us in the field of sustainability reporting. Communications is a big part of this. We need to make sure everyone knows what's going on. 


Sounds good to me! Collaboration, innovation and Moose Tracks. I confess that I had never even heard of Moose Tracks ice cream flavor. I am going to have to track some mooses down in the very near future. At the same time, I will be sending positive vibes through cyberspace all the way to Amsterdam in support of Michal Meehan and the other capable folks at GRI, hoping to see the fruits of collaboration and innovation in better sustainability reporting in the coming years. 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  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

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