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Vermont NGO Calls on GRI to Enforce or Explain

Submitted by: Center for Sustainable Organizations

Categories: Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainability

Posted: Sep 06, 2011 – 07:59 AM EST


THETFORD CENTER, Vt., Sep. 06 /CSRwire/ - The Center for Sustainable Organizations (CSO) launched a campaign today in which it calls upon the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the world's leading corporate sustainability reporting standard, to either enforce the 'sustainability context' principle in its guidelines or explain why it doesn't.

Motivated in part by GRI's own recent Report or Explain Campaign, which exhorts companies to reveal their own sustainability performance or else publicly explain why they don't, CSO's call for GRI to explain why it doesn't enforce its own sustainability reporting guidelines is intended to address a major flaw in mainstream reporting: the absence of sustainability context in related efforts.

Sustainability context, as GRI points out, is critically important to sustainability measurement and reporting. When measuring water use, for example, it is not enough to simply report the volume of water used this year versus last. Rather, as GRI puts it (Technical Protocol section, p. 6), organizational performance should be reported…

… in relation to information about economic, environmental, and social conditions in relevant locations, e.g., discussing water consumption in relation to available supply in a particular location[.]

Indeed, as GRI further explains (GRI p. 11):

Information on performance should be placed in context. The underlying question of sustainability reporting is how an organization contributes, or aims to contribute in the future, to the improvement or deterioration of economic, environmental, and social conditions, developments, and trends at the local, regional, or global level. Reporting only on trends in individual performance (or the efficiency of the organization) will fail to respond to this underlying question.

That said, such context is almost universally missing from contemporary GRI reports. CSO’s founder and Executive Director, Mark W. McElroy, had this to say about today’s announcement:

It is quite literally the case that sustainability measurement and reporting cannot be done without including the kind of context GRI’s guidelines call for. And yet GRI fails to enforce this requirement by (a) not providing sufficient guidelines for how to do so, (b) awarding and/or endorsing superior ratings for reports that are entirely context-free, and (c) excluding context in its own reports. As long as GRI adheres to its policy of failing to enforce the need to include context in sustainability measurement and reporting, corporate sustainability reports will amount to little more than eco-efficiency reports, citizenship reports or what have you, but not sustainability reports in any authentic sense of the term. 

And so given the growing urgency of ensuring the sustainability of business in the world, CSO is calling upon GRI to enforce this most basic principle of sustainability measurement and reporting by (a) specifying procedures for how to measure and report performance in context, (b) modifying its rating guidelines so as to withhold superior ratings for reports that fail to include context, and (c) setting the proper example itself by including context in its own reports from now on. 

As McElroy put it, “Until or unless these steps are taken, it is hard to understand why any other changes or enhancements to GRI, such as integrated reporting or supply chain assessments, should be given priority especially when they are just as context-free. Moreover, by allowing the absence of context to persist in mainstream reporting, GRI effectively, if not unwittingly, plays a supporting role in preventing true or authentic sustainability reporting from happening. The credibility of sustainability measurement, management and reporting suffers in turn.”

About the Center for Sustainable Organizations

The Center for Sustainable Organizations is a non-profit NGO located in Thetford Center, Vt. It was founded in 2004 with a vision of enhancing the practice of corporate sustainability management. To that end, most of CSO's efforts have been applied to the development of advanced tools, methods and metrics for measuring, managing and reporting the sustainability performance of organizations, and to operationalizing the triple bottom line in business. More information about CSO, context-based sustainability, and other topics of importance to sustainability management can be found at CSO's website.

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