Monday, August 19, 2013

When is materiality not materiality?

Here's an issue that probably flies under everyone's materiality radar. The issue of "boredom rooms" in Japanese companies is disturbing. The story was reported in an article penned by Hiroko Tabuchi and published on 16th August in the New York Times.

Here's a short extract:

"Shusaku Tani is employed at the Sony plant here, but he doesn’t really work. For more than two years, he has come to a small room, taken a seat and then passed the time reading newspapers, browsing the Web and poring over engineering textbooks from his college days. He files a report on his activities at the end of each day. Sony, Mr. Tani’s employer of 32 years, consigned him to this room because they can’t get rid of him. Sony had eliminated his position at the Sony Sendai Technology Center, which in better times produced magnetic tapes for videos and cassettes. But Mr. Tani, 51, refused to take an early retirement offer from Sony in late 2010 — his prerogative under Japanese labor law. So there he sits in what is called the “chasing-out room.” He spends his days there, with about 40 other holdouts....... Sony said it was not doing anything wrong in placing employees in what it calls Career Design Rooms. Employees are given counseling to find new jobs in the Sony group, or at another company, it said. Sony also said that it offered workers early retirement packages that are generous by American standards: in 2010, it promised severance payments equivalent to as much as 54 months of pay. But the real point of the rooms is to make employees feel forgotten and worthless — and eventually so bored and shamed that they just quit, critics say."
Boredom rooms appear to be an issue which steps over the line of respecting human rights practices in the workplace.
Sony's 2012 CSR Report, entitled "For the Next Generation" is a 416 page giant of a report (website download), covering every possible policy and sustainability or CSR related practice. Well, almost. The report, which is GRI G3.1-indexed but not declared at any GRI reporting level,  does not contain a Materiality Matrix, so we don't know if human rights in the workplace is considered material for Sony or not. However, Sony does report on its approach to human rights (my highlights)
"Sony is committed to maintaining a dynamic workplace where human rights are respected and equal employment opportunities allow individuals to make the most of their capabilities. In light of the increasing diversity of human rights issues facing corporations, Sony believes a common awareness among employees is crucial to ensuring such issues are addressed appropriately. The Sony Group Code of Conduct, enacted in May 2003, contains articles related to respect for human rights and maps out policies that guide human rights-related rules and activities throughout the Sony Group. ........ These provisions are based on existing international standards, including the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
Boredom rooms is an issue which only local stakeholders will be aware of. It's impossible to know about this practice at the Sony workplace unless you are an intuitive and talented investigative reporter, a local human rights employment-oriented NGO, a Trades Union employee association (about 24% of Sony employees are members of a labor union), or a Sony employee or relative of a Sony employee. It's only through genuine stakeholder engagement that this issue would surface. The questions is whether it would be prioritized by Sony as one of the most important material aspects as are required to be identified by a GRI G4 report, or whether it would be just one of a list of topics that doesn't make the materiality threshold. Either way, it sounds like it should be on the radar. 
This is one of the complexities of the materiality focus in G4 reporting. By selecting only the most material issues, a lot of stuff gets relegated to oblivion. An important topic raised through stakeholder feedback may not make it to the Sustainability Report, because of the materiality prioritization process. It's not too difficult to manipulate this process and carefully deselect topics which might be critically material to some but not material to all.  Is this what is needed to appease stakeholders, or is it shooting yourself in the foot? The fact that an issue doesn't make a G4 Sustainability Report doesn't mean it's not an issue.
We inevitably come back to the purpose and objective of the Sustainability Report. G4 talks about relevant transparency serving two purposes:  it enables stakeholders to make decisions about their relationship with the company, and it helps the business focus on potential sustainability risks and take appropriate safeguards. G4 is intended to be about good process which helps drive better sustainability impacts by addressing both these aspects. By casting a wide net in understanding sustainability topics, a company has a more robust tool to manage risk and increase stakeholder trust. The issue of restructuring in a labor environment which makes releasing employees almost impossible, so that "creative" solutions such as boredom rooms need to be devised, may not have been deemed material by Sony, if it ever made the list of relevant topics in the first place. But if this subject gains greater exposure, it might end up closer to the materiality threshold than Sony leadership might have envisaged. 
This issue also highlights the challenge posed by clarifying the Material Aspect Boundary required by G4. In Disclosure G4-20, the requirement is to define the entities of the organization for which an issue is material. As the article states, in Western countries, it is easier to release employees when jobs are no longer available. In Japan, apparently, the labor environment make this more difficult. Therefore, the materiality of this topic relates to the Japanese market, where Sony employs 37.5% of its workforce, but not to Western markets. A good G4 report would need to reflect this, if the issue is material. But, if the issue relates to only part of the workforce, maybe it will be seen as less important than other issues which relate to the entire workforce. Here we come back to the fact that materiality is defined in a relative way and this influences what a company chooses to disclose. It's not simple.
Materiality, as the basis for a G4 Report, may be the only sensible choice. Relevant transparency is what most of us want. But relevant is relative. Important is relative. Materiality is relative. Creating the right balance between what's relatively relevant and what's relatively irrelevant is no easy choice, and needs an analytical brain, an open and inclusive mindset and a rather large helping of integrity. Incidentally, for a fabulous analysis of the differences between materiality definitions and points of focus in three different reporting frameworks - IIRC, SASB and GRI - see a paper from BSR from Dunstan Hope and Guy Morgan >> Navigating the Materiality Muddle.
In many ways, one of the materiality tests we could apply is the three-part self-inquiry we often teach in ethics training:
  • If my kids (boss, husband, wife, Board of Directors, Greenpeace, anyone important) found out, would this be a problem?
  • If this story ran on CNN (or in the New York times), would this be a problem?
  • Can I sleep at night?

Would boredom rooms pass this test?

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: A 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)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Would you work for free?

At some level, it's extremely flattering to be asked to speak at many events, conferences, congresses and provide expert input to large corporations for their stakeholder engagement efforts. It's really great to be considered an expert that people want to hear. Developing detailed expertise in specialist fields such as Sustainability Reporting, CSR for HR, the new G4 GRI Guidelines, Sustainability Strategy, SME Reporting, Stakeholder Engagement and CSR and Social Media, things which I am generally known for, takes time, money and consistent effort. But feeling flattered does not pay the bills. People don't become experts by chance. They work at it. Fortunately for me, the things I work at becoming expert in are the things I am most passionate about in my life, but nonetheless, I spend hours upon hours building my own knowledge in many different ways, including those which cost money such as attending expensive conferences or training programs. I am sure other consultants do the same. Building expertise is a major investment. It's great when people recognize that you are an expert.
I am often approached (several times a week) by many different companies, organizations, groups or individuals to use my expertise to help them. Some want my input to their stakeholder engagement process, some want me to go lecture at a meeting or conference, some want me to review their sustainability reports, or blog about them, some want me to provide advice for a paper or thesis they are writing, some want me to run a training session .. etc... the number and range of requests are endless. When it's students of CSR or Sustainability, I always try to help as much as I can. If it's an academic institution or an NGO, I do my best to help. It's when for-profit companies or corporations ask me to use my time and expertise to help them, expecting I will do so for free, because it gives me exposure or provides me with a way to contribute to the greater good, I draw the line.
A recent post by Toby Webb, of Ethical Corporation, resonated with me. He was coming from a different angle. In a post entitled "How not to engage stakeholders by email" , he makes the point that the new way of engaging stakeholders by sending bulk emails to a range of people and asking for input is not effective. He calls it the tick-box way of stakeholder engagement. While there is some place for online surveys in any company's arsenal of communications tools and channels, there is something that rings true about this. However, my point here is not so much about the effectiveness of this approach, but about the expectation that individuals will be prepared to invest time, effort and expertise with no compensation. 
A couple of cases in point (out of several) from this last week.
First: Large global company conducting a stakeholder engagement exercise. I didn't respond to the first request (time, time, time) and I got second request by email which went like this:

Early last week you have received below email from xxxxxx, Head of Corporate Responsibility (CR) at  xxxxxx, inviting you to take part in the company’s CR materiality analysis. As you are a critical stakeholder, xxxxxxx would like to seek your opinion through an online survey (see link below) followed by a short phone discussion (approx. 1 hour, to be scheduled once survey is filled in).

The request is to complete the survey (I did, it took about 10 minutes) AND then spend one hour on the phone.

Second: Commercial training company running a summit which costs over $2000 per delegate for three days. I was invited to be a guest speaker on one of the panels. I asked for travel reimbursement and of course a fee for speaking. This was the response.

"We wont be able to cover any of the associated expenses, since you do represent the service providers sector. We have identified you very relevant to the topic, and are happy to offer you participation on a complimentary basis, hoping the event would offer you the value in return."

Would you work for free? I raised this question in a Facebook Group for CSR people in Israel, and the unequivocal advice was NO... as a professional expert, you should ask a fee for your professional input and services, even if the overall purpose is to help save the planet. One member of the group, Rei Dishon, pointed me to a fabulous decision tree flowchart which says it quite well (you have to click to enlarge and read it).

Basically, I have learned the hard way that participation free at events with the promise of "exposure" and "value" almost never brings either. I also learned that if big corporations want the expertise I work so hard to develop, they should pay for it. I give a lot of expertise away free... via my blogs, and to NGOs and academic institutions and to many many students who ask me for advice and help. Corporations should expect to pay. It's the ethical way.

In this new age of stakeholder engagement, and possibly with greater focus on process in the development of materiality analysis with the new G4 guidelines, and the ease of pushing out online surveys and accessibility of us all through email, we can possibly expect that more and more corporations will be turning to us all, "critical" stakeholders, to provide input. This is progress, Toby's effectiveness argument notwithstanding. However, such input has value. And in seeking it, companies should understand the value that stakeholders want in return. It's not enough to promise to be a better or more sustainable company. Different stakeholders will want different things. Some may not want financial remuneration. Some may. But stakeholder engagement has a price and may start to be one of the new currencies of our complex evolving world of sustainability. Companies will need to start factoring in the costs of more extensive interaction. They will also need to know that their online requests for input competes with several other similar requests, and at some point, becomes a turn-off for the very stakeholders they address as "critical". Differentiation, targeted selection of which stakeholders to approach, and how, and consideration of stakeholder needs, in this area too, will become skills companies will need to develop. 

Here's another example from this week.

xxxx is working to better communicate about our corporate citizenship programs. We value your feedback so we can best describe xxxxx's commitment to responsible operations as well as investments and involvement in our communities. Thank you for sharing your perspective by clicking on this link and answering the survey's seven questions (which we estimate will take only 2-3 minutes of your time). Many thanks and kind regards
I found this approach reasonable. Short survey. Nicely worded request. But it's a global company whose products I do not use (to my knowledge) and with whom I have never had any interaction. How did I get on their list? Nonetheless, I'm inclined to do it. For nothing in return. I hope they use the input. But, if I get ten of these in the same week, I won't respond to all of them.
Anyone who offers to compensate me with ice cream, of course, has a great chance of getting a positive response :)

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: A 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)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The first G4 Sustainability Report in the World

What appears to be the first G4 Sustainability Report in the whole wide world has been published by the City of Warsaw. Wow! Hat's off to Warsaw! That's good news. But then, that's no less that we would expect with a women at the helm! Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, the Mayor of the City of Warsaw, and a former Chairwoman of the National Bank of Poland, is showing leadership and foresight in publicly declaring a commitment to sustainability.  

It's a 14-page self-declared CORE level "integrated sustainability report" covering the City of Warsaw's activities in calendar year 2012. Highlights include retrofitting of Warsaw's public buildings  at an investment of Euro 230 million, investments in renewable energy worth Euro 151 million, boosting biomass energy production, an EU co-funded water treatment facility modernization at a total investment of Euro 769 million and funding of many social, educational, health, sport and cultural activities. Significant progress has been made in fighting crime and improving road safety. Warsaw also boasts the largest percentage of LEED and BREEAM-certified new building construction in the Central and Eastern European region and a new city-wide automated bicycle rental system which is used an average of over 10,000 times per day.  
I'll use this example of a public agency report to reflect on the value of G4 reporting in the public sector. We have every right to hold governments and municipal leadership to the same high standards we expect of corporations when it comes to transparency, accountability and management of sustainability impacts. We might argue that it is even more imperative for governments and municipalities to do this, both because they should practice what they preach (if they are encouraging businesses to be more transparent, through legislation or purchasing practices, for example) but also, because governments and cities frame the business environment in which companies operate, and therefore have a primary role in determining the level of sustainability practice that is applied in their geography. So far, very few municipalities around the world have taken up this approach and very few national governments have demanded it from their local municipalities. We even tend to bypass public agencies when thinking about sustainability - we don't see them as having a primary aim of lining the pockets of shareholders and consequently plagued by an inherent conflict between profit and public good, as private corporations tend to be regarded. Yet, legislators at national and local levels have a massive opportunity to drive increased sustainability awareness and practice at so many different levels. Why would we not expect them to lead the way?

That's the context in which we should consider the Warsaw report. It delivers many important messages both with what's written and with what's not written.

First, it advances trust. This report earns my trust. It appears to be authentic in reflecting the city leadership's desire to make sustainable progress and improve quality of life. It's written in plain, simple language, as though you were speaking to one of the city officials. It's to the point, nothing more than the minimum, but it covers some important aspects of sustainable municipal operations. No report is easy to write, and I suspect there have been many hours of discussion and deliberation in the production of this one.
Second, it's transparent, up to a point, and as a first report, it's a major breakthrough. If every city produced a report just like this, I believe our world would be an entirely more positive place.
Third, it demonstrates leadership. The City of Warsaw is one of the few cities to deliver this kind of report. Even the choice to adopt G4 is the demonstration of a desire to lead an approach which is considered to be best practice and an example and inspiration for all.
Fourth, it's there. I always say that 80% of something is better than 100% of nothing. Whether this report is 80% or any %, it's out there. And for that, I give Mayor Hanna and the City of Warsaw a massive triple CSR-Reporting Blog ice-cream cone award.

The City of Warsaw's timing is fortuitous. It's due to host the UN climate Change Conference (COP 19) in November 2013. No doubt, the City's first G4 Integrated Sustainability Report will soon be appearing on the COP19 website!
The less good news is that the report doesn't quite match up to the great hopes we all have for Next Generation Sustainability Reporting. It's easy to work through this report and say what's wrong about it. We could assert that the report takes a tick-box G3 approach, responding to all indicators in turn, often inadequately, indicating some lack of understanding of the scope and breadth required by G4 reporting, making reference to some of disclosures which are incomplete and sometimes unclear. We could refer to the lack of process demonstrated in determining materiality or to parts of the content which appear to be more about marketing the City's services than about reporting specific sustainability impacts. We could create quite a list of suggestions for improvement.

For example, I would like to see the City of Warsaw continuing to deliver an annual Sustainability Report and doing so with increased  evidence of process and depth. I would like to see more substance to the selection of material issues and a report structure which give these issues more presence in the way that G4 intends, with Disclosures on Management Approach which are more balanced and comprehensive. I would like to see data presented with greater clarity and consistency. Ultimately, I would like to see a report that is self-declared by the City to be G4 CORE to actually be G4 CORE. This one is not, on several levels, and that's rather a shame.

Any organization that delivers a report that claims to be In Accordance with G4 carries a great responsibility to deliver on that promise. In general, misrepresentation of the GRI Reporting guidelines does a disservice to all of us in the reporting world. We saw many abuses of the GRI G3 Reporting Framework and many claims of G3 reports that, when you took the time to look, were not actually G3 reports at all. G4 is an opportunity to use the framework well and represent it with accuracy and integrity. The appeal of being the "first G4 report in the world" or even "any G4 report in the world" should not be at the expense of delivering an accurate, balanced G4 report that matches up to its own product label claim.

I hope this report from Warsaw will be viewed and used by a wide range of stakeholders and perhaps most importantly, the ones who are most directly affected - the city's population. The efforts of the Warsaw municipality to be transparent are an invitation to the people of Warsaw to provide their feedback and input. Additionally, with the European Commission now driving legislation that will require corporations in Europe to report on sustainability, many other cities in the European Union will be well advised to follow Warsaw's lead and set an example to businesses in their areas that will be obliged to produce some form of transparent reporting in the future.

Warsaw is on the right track. Now they need to maintain the pace, drive up their game and leverage the opportunities that sustainability, accountability and transparency will inevitably bring to the ninth largest city in Europe and the capital of Poland.
elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) 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)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The UG4 Webinar: 14 questions about G4

This week we ran our first Understanding G4 Webinar. By we, I mean DōSustainability and the DōShorts Sustainable Business Collection who were kind enough to publish Understanding G4: The Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting. We had close to 180 registrants from almost as many countries... well, a lot of countries anyway, and from a range of sectors and also from a range of stakeholders including CSR and Sustainability Managers, consultants, academics, NGOs and media.

I'd like to emphasize that I do not speak on behalf of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) not do I have any official connection to the GRI in relation to G4, other than the fact that my company, Beyond Business Ltd has been a GRI Organizational stakeholder for several years and we act as a data partner in Israel for advising the GRI of locally published reports. I have developed my understanding of G4 through attending the G4 launch in Amsterdam in May 2013, and thereafter spending many pleasant hours of study of the 300 pages of the guidelines, plus a couple of conversations for clarification with Bastian Buck, Reporting Framework Manager of the GRI, and also, through conversations with colleagues and clients around the world. In particular, Dr. Glenn Frommer, Head of Sustainable Development at the MTR Corporation was extremely helpful in sharing insights and working through my Understanding G4 manuscript with an eye for detail and balance. Also, as we are currently working on G4 report preparation for clients, and preparing detailed G4-Ready Analyses, for which we have developed some proprietary tools, for example, our G4-Ready Dashboard, I find myself reciting Specific Standard Disclosures in my sleep. Therefore, I feel my knowledge of G4 is, modestly, pretty good :). Even when I am sleeping.
If you want to see the webinar recording, you can do so here:  

As usual when I am in webinar mode, I talked too much and didn't get to answer all of the questions that were tabled by participants. So, what better place than to do this than on the CSR Reporting Blog? Here are the questions as I received them from webinar moderator Gudrun Freese, DōSustainability's co-founder and Communications Director. And my answers.
(Big thanks to all those who participated and submitted these questions)

Question: G4: First mover or fast follower? What the right time to move from 3.1 to G4?
My answer: The time to move to G4 is now. Sure, there is always a reputational point or two to be gained from demonstrating agility, openness, flexibility and adaptability to new guidelines and requirements, so "first mover" may well give you an edge for a short time. However, this is of far less value than getting your first G4 report right. That doesn't mean perfect. It means right.
The quality of your G4 report will be defined by the robustness of your materiality process the way you engage to determine what's most material for your business and for your stakeholders. Once you have this clear enough (not clear perfect, but clear enough), you can work towards your G4 report. No need to wait. It's not a race or a competition to see who gets through the G4 goalposts first, but there is no real reason to delay transitioning to a better framework. CORE and COMPREHENSIVE G4 options are equally relevant and equally commendable options. 
Question: Elaine, Do you think that we have to add linkage tables to the sustainability reports due to the high number of existing frameworks. What has to be done?
My answer: GRI has not prepared nice neat linkages content indexes such as existed for G3. The Book of Reporting principles does includes three tables which show the correlation between (1) UNGC ten principles (2) OECD Guidelines for Multinational enterprises and (3) UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In the G4 Manual, these tables show the key principles or chapters from these three frameworks and then a reference to a G4 Category and/or Aspect, which I personally don't find terribly helpful. In Understanding G4, I developed tables which show this the other way around, using the G4 as the start point and showing which Specific Standard Disclosures align with the UNGC and OECD principles and chapters respectively.

For use in a G4 report, companies will have to create the tables themselves, unless GRI actually publishes a tool that can be used. There are no linkages to other frameworks, such as, for example, UNGC Advanced COP criteria, or LEAD criteria, CDP, or the UN CEO Water Mandate, or ISO 26000, or other sector frameworks such as they exist.

Question: Is it necessary to answer/include sector supplement questions to be in accordance to CORE?
My answer: It is advisable to consider sector supplements, although these exist for only a small number of sectors at present. When selecting material issues, a company should also consider sector supplements (now called "Sector Disclosures") and if a sector-specific issue is material, then the relevant performance indicators should be used. 
Question: How rigorously GRI does cross check / verify the reports?
My answer: For G4, so far, zero rigorously. At this point, GRI has not committed to performing an "Application Level Check" (ALC), which we know from our ABC days of G3, on new reports which are "In Accordance" with G4. Time will tell if GRI will do this. If so, the In Accordance check will have to be somewhat different and unequivocally more rigorous than the current ALC, in my view. All the issues around false claims in GRI reports which prompted a weak response from GRI earlier this year would only undermine G4 if they resurface. Either GRI will elect to stay on the sidelines and let stakeholders do the work, or they will opt for a full and reliable check which adds value to companies and stakeholders.  

Question: Where can we find the downloadable Book of Principles, please?
My answer: All the G4 materials can be downloaded from the GRI website - click here for direct teleportation. Phew. Glad that was an EASY question.
Question: Is the G4 aligned to the UN Global Compact?
My answer: Sort of. There are general linkages to the ten principles of the UNGC in the Reporting Principles book of G4, and throughout the Implementation Manual by indicator where relevant.  However, with a G4 report, where it is possible to, say, completely omit at COMPREHENSIVE level any discussion of Human Rights or Anti-Corruption, if they are not material, or even environmental disclosures, a G4 CORE or COMPREHENSIVE report may not meet the requirements for an Active Level or Advanced Level COP, where a G3 A level report almost certainly would have done and a B level report probably would have done.
Given the seemingly close relationship between GRI and the UNGC, it is indeed rather curious that greater alignment was not designed into both organizations' disclosure requirements.   

Question: Would there still be the C, B and A levels in reporting?
My answer: Only by mistake.  Or by anachronism. I have already forgotten them.
Question: Are the KPIs in G4 different from the ones on G3.1?
My answer: Yes. And No. G4 has 91 KPIs (Specific Standard Disclosures) where G3.1 had 84  and G3 had 79. (Inflation happens, even to the GRI). About 12 of these disclosures are completely new, but many more have been modified. In many cases, the formal reporting requirement of a certain part of an indicator has been moved to "guidance" which means, essentially, take it or leave it.
Question: Can you specify the information "One performance Indicator per Aspect"? Is there a minimum number like 10 indicators as it was in G3?
My answer: No, there is no minimum. The number of performance indicators is determined by the number of Material Aspects you select. If you have 346 Material Aspects, then for a CORE report, you would have to spill the beans on 346 Performance Indicators. If you have 1 Material Aspect, then in theory, your CORE report could be very short indeed. In practice, though, there is an expectation that due process will prevail and that companies will deliver a result which includes an appropriate and relevant set of Material Issues by adhering to the reporting principles for content and quality.  

Question: How G4 is accepted internationally and how is the comparison with ISO standards?
My answer: G4 has received significant appreciation from a wide range of those connected to Sustainability Reporting in different ways, as it is seen to provide a more relevant and targeted approach to sustainability reporting. There are some who feel that G4 doesn't go far enough is some areas, but on the whole, G4 is welcomed by the global CSR and Sustainability community, at least, that's the way it seems to me. G4 does not directly compare with ISO standards, as it is a reporting framework and not a quality standard. G4 blissfully ignores ISO26000, despite the fact that many companies are using ISO26000 to structure sustainability reports. G4 does make references to ISO standards on occasions, such as ISO14604 and the GHG Protocol for carbon emissions reporting.

Question: How about other emissions like Mercury, POPs, other pollutants considered hazardous in Basel, Stockholm, Rotterdam, PIC conventions?
My answer: G4 contains a performance indicator relating to "other" emissions including Nox, Sox, POPs, HAPs, VOCs and PMs. (Ha-ha. Don't you just love the language of sustainability?). Check out Specific Standard Disclosure G4-EN 21, Emissions Aspect, Environment Category. As to other pollutants, companies are free to add specific references if these are material to their business and their stakeholders. G4 is less prescriptive here.

Question: How is supply chain environmental degradation considered by G4 in developing nations. Like conflict material issues. Can a company intentionally limit or reduce the boundary of supply chain issues dealing with Env, Child Labor, against ILO basic criteria, and still be acceptable by GRI authorities, e.g. metals extracted from African countries - being used by multinational mobile manufacturers?
My answer: Great question and a very serious issue which goes right to the core of how a company should use G4 for reporting on important issues. Of course, the G4 framework is only as good as the companies who use it. As with any set of guidelines, companies may abuse them. It is indeed possible to "doctor" your set of material issues and leave out the ones that are uncomfortable for a company to report on. It is indeed possible to deliver an "In Accordance" G4 report at COMPREHENSIVE level and leave out half of the information that would have been required at G3 Application Level A. It is indeed possible to lack integrity in the preparation and publication of G4 reports. At this point, GRI has not announced plans to check and monitor how the G4 framework is being used.
However, this speaks to the guiding approach in the development of G4. That of encouraging companies to take ownership for their reporting and demonstrate accountability in a mature way. This means that companies should follow due process (see the G4 Reporting Principles on Content and Quality Book) in the development of a materiality matrix, consult with internal and external stakeholders as relevant and define the list of issues that make sense for the business and its stakeholders. The report should be constructed around these issues.
G4 starts from the point that companies will and should want to do this because it's right for their business. Of course, we all know better, and that many companies will not be quite as far-sighted. We will all need to be very alert when we see the first G4 reports entering the reporting landscape and first, before counting how many performance indicators a company has responded to, scrutinize the way in which material issues were defined and whether those issues make sense in a broader context of a company's role in society and impacts on people, society and the environment.
Specifically, as regards conflict minerals, child labor issues etc., these should be reported if they are considered material by the reporting company. G4 does not prescribe disclosures on these issues. 

Question: How global usage of G4 is acceptable - specially in Middle East UAE? 
My answer: Globally, the GRI Reporting Framework is very widely used. What the uptake of G4 will be remains to be seen. In UAE, there are very few reporters at this time and my impression is that uptake of the GRI Framework is about half and half. Some use GRI - including Masdar, who delivered a first Sustainability Report for 2012 at GRI Application Level A+, and some don't. What will happen with G4 is anybody's guess. Anyone for a little wager?

Question: Should it be necessary to refer to G3 before using this new version? Or just apply G4 without looking back the previous version?
My answer: Fabulous question to finish up with. I think the best way to approach G4 is to start with G4. It really doesn't matter what was in G3. Of course, if you have published G3 reports, you might wish to make some comparisons of different disclosures and this might help with decision making in certain areas as you make the transition.
But in my view, G4 needs a G4 mindset, not a "G3-plus-changes" mindset. G3 has tended to start with a set of reporting requirements and you work down the list deciding what you can or cannot report on. G4 starts with a process to define a set of issues that are important and a decision about how to report on them. It's a different game.
G4 is a standalone framework. We don't need G3 any more. In fact, I predict that very soon, G3 reports will be no more than nostalgia.
Thanks again to all who attended the webinar and for all your questions.
Looking forward to seeing loads of G4 reports in the coming months :)

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) 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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