A Brief Introduction to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a non-profit international organization that provides companies with a reliable reporting framework they can use to measure and analyze their environmental impact. 

The GRI is highly involved with non-profit organizations like Ceres, the Tellus Institute, and the UN Environment Programme.

GRI was founded in 1997 following the environmental damage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, one of the worst oil spills in US history, as it covered 1,300 miles of coastline.

When the GRI was first established, the main goal was to create the first accountability mechanism to ensure companies take responsibility for their environmental impacts and adhere to environmental conduct principles. The reporting framework eventually broadened to include economic, social, and governance (ESG) issues.

In 2016, GRI transitioned from providing guidelines to setting the first global standards for sustainability reporting, known as the GRI Standards. The Standards continue to be updated over the years, adding new standards like the Topic Standards on Tax (2019) and Waste (2020).

The demand for sustainability reporting has been increasing over the years due to the progression of climate change. Some businesses even require companies they work with to adopt a framework like the GRI Standards. 

By adopting a sustainability reporting framework, an organization can better understand its impacts on the economy, environment, and society while minimizing risks and taking action toward becoming a trusted organization.

What Are the GRI Standards and How Are They Structured?

The GRI Standards are a modular system comprising three series of Standards: the GRI Universal Standards, the GRI Sector Standards, and the GRI Topic Standards. Organizations use these standards to prepare and report information that has significant environmental impacts. 

The Standards contain disclosures, which provide a structured means for an organization to report information about itself and its impacts. 

The disclosures can have requirements and can also include recommendations. Requirements list the information an organization must report or rules it must comply with and report in accordance with the GRI Standards. Recommendations indicate that certain information, or a particular course of action, is encouraged but not required.  

Who Uses GRI Standards and How is Reported Information Used?

Any organization—large or small, public or private, from any sector or location—can use the GRI Standards. Reporters and stakeholders use the Standards to report on an organization’s impacts in a credible way that is comparable over time. 

The Standards also help stakeholders understand what organizations should report and how to use the information published by organizations.

An organization and its stakeholders can use reported information to assess its policies and strategies. For example, investors can use the reported data to assess how an organization integrates sustainable development into its strategy, identifies financial risks, and evaluates its long-term success. The reported data can also help other users—such as analysts and policymakers—form policies.

What Are the Different Types of GRI Standards?

GRI Universal Standards

The GRI Universal Standards apply to all organizations and consist of the following:

GRI 1: Foundation 2021 outlines the purpose of the GRI Standards, clarifies critical concepts, and explains how to use the Standards. It lists the requirements an organization must comply with to report in accordance with the GRI Standards and specifies the principles—such as accuracy, balance, and verifiability—fundamental to good-quality reporting.

GRI 2: General Disclosures 2021 contains disclosures relating to details about an organization’s structure and reporting practices—activities, employees, governance, strategy, policies, procedures, and stakeholder engagement. These give insight into an organization’s scalability and help provide context for understanding an organization’s impacts.

GRI 3: Material Topics 2021 explains the steps an organization should take to determine the topics most relevant to its impacts, known as material topics. It also describes how the Sector Standards are used in this process and contains disclosures for reporting its list of material topics, the process of how an organization has determined its material topics, and how it manages each topic.

GRI Sector Standards

The GRI Sector Standards intend to increase an organization’s reporting quality, completeness, and consistency. Standards will be developed for 40 sectors, starting with those with the highest impact, such as oil and gas, agriculture, and fishing.

Organizations should reference the Sector Standard when determining their material topics. The Standards list topics likely to be material for most organizations in a given sector and identify relevant disclosures to report on these topics. Each Sector Standard also provides an overview of the sector’s characteristics, including the activities and business relationships that can determine its impacts. If an applicable Sector Standard is available, an organization must use it when reporting with the GRI Standards. 

Sector Standards should not be a substitute for an organization’s own process of determining material topics. The organization is still required to determine material topics according to its specific circumstances and can reference the GRI 3: Material Topics 2021 for step-by-step guidance on choosing material topics.

If an organization has determined any of the topics included in the Sector Standard as not material, the organization is required to list them in the GRI content index and explain why they are not material, or irrelevant.

GRI Topic Standards

The GRI Topic Standards contain disclosures for providing information on topics like waste, occupational health and safety, and tax. Each Standard provides an overview of the topic, specific disclosures, and how an organization manages its associated impacts. An organization should select the Topic Standards that correspond to its selected material topics and use them for reporting.

Reporting in Accordance with the GRI Standards

Reporting in accordance with the GRI Standards enables an organization to provide a comprehensive picture of its most significant impacts on the economy, environment, and society, including effects on human rights and how it manages these impacts. Reporting allows reporters and key stakeholders to make informed assessments and decisions about the organization’s impacts and contribution to sustainable development. 

To report in accordance with the GRI Standards, an organization must comply with all nine requirements set out in section 3 of GRI 1:

  • Requirement 1: Apply the reporting principles
  • Requirement 2: Report the disclosures in GRI 2: General Disclosures 2021
  • Requirement 3: Determine material topics.
  • Requirement 4: Report the disclosures in GRI 3: Material Topics 2021
  • Requirement 5: Report disclosures from the GRI Topic Standards for each material topic
  • Requirement 6: Provide reasons for the omission of disclosures and requirements that the organization cannot comply with
  • Requirement 7: Publish a GRI content index
  • Requirement 8: Provide a statement of use
  • Requirement 9: Notify GRI

Reporting with Reference to the GRI Standards

If an organization cannot comply with all the requirements for reporting in accordance with the GRI Standards, it cannot claim to have prepared the reported information in accordance with the GRI Standards. 

Instead, it can claim that it has prepared the reported information with reference to the GRI Standards, provided that it complies with the requirements specified in Reporting with reference to the GRI Standards at the end of section 3 in GRI 1

In this case, the organization must comply with these specific requirements:

  • Publish a GRI content index
  • Provide a statement of use
  • Notify GRI

An organization can also report with reference to the GRI Standards if it uses selected GRI Standards, or parts of their content, to report information about topics for specific purposesto comply with a reporting regulation on climate change, for example. In this case, the organization must also comply with all three requirements for reporting with reference to the GRI Standards.

How Mobile reCell Can Help with GRI Standards Reporting

The progression of climate change has increased the need for a reliable reporting framework that organizations can use to track and analyze data.

The GRI standard is the most widely adopted global standard for sustainability reporting, as 73% of the world’s largest companies currently use the GRI reporting framework.

Actively reporting data provides transparency about an organization’s goals, efforts, and outcomes, and shows the organization is dedicated to being honest with its stakeholders.

At Mobile reCell, we provide customized environmental impact reports in easy-to-understand measurements to show how your IT asset lifecycle program is creating a sustainable solution—by reselling, reusing, and recycling assets—and saving e-waste materials from landfills.

Using information from the environmental impact report, Mobile reCell customers can report on the following GRI Standards:

  • Disclosure 306-2 Management of significant waste-related impacts
    • Key measurable impacts would include: tons of hazardous waste reused and/or recycled, nonhazardous waste reused and/or recycled, and total tons of waste prevented
  • Disclosure 418-1 Substantiated complaints concerning breaches of customer privacy and losses of customer data
    • Key measurable impacts include keeping data breaches from asset disposition to 0

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