At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we are so proud to have joined voices with other corporate sustainability practitioners, academics, analysts, and advisors in calling upon the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) to improve and enhance its treatment of "sustainability context" in the forthcoming G4 version of its sustainability reporting guidelines. In a public comment submitted September 24, 2012 to GRI by the Sustainability Context Group (of which we are a member), we stated:
Although GRI's Guidelines currently do advocate for the inclusion of Sustainability Context in organizational reports, they fail to provide specific guidance for how to do so. Because of this lack of guidance, very few GRI-based sustainability reports have ever actually included such context--and yet without it, there can be no true or authentic sustainability reporting, in our opinion. For the sake of the credibility--and usefulness--of sustainability report, it is vitally important that this shortcoming be resolved, and that GRI take steps to include specific guidance in G4 for how to implement Sustainability Context in contemporary reporting.
We are deeply grateful for the leadership of Mark McElroy and Bill Baue, who championed the Sustainability Context Group through several intense versions of this letter. In the end, they crafted a solid and practical approach:
Rather than devise a specific procedure for how to implement Sustainability Context in organizational reporting, we believe GRI should provide related guidance in the form of functional specifications, or criteria, for how to do so, in keeping with its charge of providing broad, non-prescriptive direction. This would leave open the door to innovation and competing methodologies for how to apply such context--procedurally--while maintaining a high degree of control over the meaning and interpretation of the Principle itself. Not all interpretations of Sustainability Context will necessarily be true to the purpose, intent, and role of the Principle in reporting, so the specification of criteria is key.
The full statement from the Sustainability Context Group includes a 5-part process that companies can use to assess, calculate, and report on sustainability context. The comment also provides two concrete examples (climate change and water) so that readers can see the Principle in practice.
Sustainability Context is near and dear to our heart (see What Sustainability Context Looks Like, Q&A with Mark McElroy, and The Brutal Truth about Sustainability Reporting) and so we are delighted to have the comment submitted publicly, and look forward to movement from GRI on this important topic.