Sustainability Software: ISO, CDP, GRI.... Making Sense of the Reporting Standards

This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011.  Enjoy!

By now, you may have noticed that there’s a veritable “alphabet soup” of reporting formats being delivered in the various software systems that you may be researching.  So what types of reports does your business need to generate?  Here’s a brief description of the major report “standards” – and just because the reporting body says they are a standard, doesn’t mean that they are the right one for your business.  The listing is alphabetical – we aren’t playing favorites here…


The Carbon Disclosure Project ( currently (as of June 2011) claims a participating population of 3,000 organizations in 60 countries worldwide.  Their goal is to collect and harmonize greenhouse gas emissions data from these groups to facilitate establishment of reduction targets, business decision-making, and investment direction.  Walmart has also asked its suppliers to report using this standard.

This might be right for you if… You are looking for a widely accepted and recognized reporting format that will align with your customers’ or suppliers’ needs, or if you sell (or want to sell) your products at Walmart.


The Global Reporting Initiative ( has produced a leading reporting framework for companies to disclose their sustainability performance; approximately 1,500 companies used this framework in 2009 and the number was expected to increase significantly in 2010.

This might be right for you if… You are looking for a widely accepted and recognized reporting format that will align with your customers’ or suppliers’ needs

ISO14000 and ISO26000 

The International Organization for Standards is a globally recognized body that bridges both the public and private sectors, producing business standards for more than 160 countries, ISO14000 covers Environmental Management standards and ISO26000 covers Social Responsibility standards.  

This might be right for you if… You currently implement or adhere to other ISO operational standards at your business such as ISO9000 for Quality Management.


UL Environment (a subsidiary of Underwriters Laboratory) has launched ULE880, a standard covering Sustainability for Manufacturing Organizations; ULE’s goal is to help companies gain clarity and understanding of what makes a product sustainable (and therefore helps them figure out if their products are sustainable or not).  This standard is similar to what UL has accomplished in consumer electronics safety and other similar industries. 

This might be right for you if… You are a manufacturer and produce other products that currently undergo UL testing and certification, or would like your product to undergo ULE certification and testing.


The United Nations Global Compact ( is built around the UN’s ten universally accepted principles for human rights, the environment, labor and anti-corruption.  

This might be right for you if… You are looking for a broad global standard covering overall Corporate Social Responsibility and/or have a global presence and are seeking a common standard for your worldwide operations.

Walmart Sustainability Index 

In 2009, Walmart launched the Walmart Sustainability Index (, built around a brief survey targeted at their 100,000 global suppliers.  After assessing their suppliers, Walmart intends to build a life cycle analysis database managed by a consortium of universities, suppliers, retailers, NGO’s etc.  The final goal is the development of a simple label for consumers, to help the make more environmentally friendly purchasing decisions.

This might be right for you if… You sell (or want to sell) your products at Walmart

At the end of the day, you need to pick a package that is going to allow you to generate the report that your company needs.  You don’t HAVE to report to any of these standards in the U.S. (if you are in Europe or elsewhere, please check with your local regulations), and you may not have to publish a report at all.  However, since you identified a sound business reason to be reporting in the first place, let that input guide your choice of standards. 

Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.