Some key announcements and discussions from the Global Reporting Initiatives 2016 event

Last week I attended #GRI2016 in Amsterdam to hear about GRI’s latest work and plans in sustainability. The importance and global reach of sustainability was reflected by the fact that attendees spanned 77 countries – no mean feat considering the time and cost implications for some travelling from Brazil, India and Australia to name just a few.

Below are a few key insights that I walked away with. The below is by no means definitive and if you feel there’s key messages missing, please do comment at the bottom of the article:

From Guidelines to Standards – Just as it appears the sustainability community is getting to grips with G4, GRI announced the evolution of G4 Aspects into 30+ topic-specific Standards. There will be 3 Universal Standards applicable to all – SRS 101, SRS 201 and SRS 301. After that organisations will pick the Standards that are applicable based on material topics.

Forget the ‘S’ word – Every event has to have at least one catchy soundbyte and ‘forget the ‘S’ word’ was one of them at #GRI2016. One of the sessions in fact had this as its title. The message was businesses should think more about their purpose and the quality of product and life that they deliver. This message was present across the three days and echoes what we found in our months of research for #RBSEU

Collaboration is key – To achieve real change requires organisations of varying sizes and capabilities coming together and pooling resources to achieve a common goal. This collaborative approach was evident in many sessions and discussions I had. Ernesto Ciorra, head of innovation and sustainability at Enel, stressed the only way companies will create real sustainable innovation is through seeking input from external stakeholders. 

It’s all about jobs – That was the message from the Rt Hon Desmond Swayne TD MP in one of the plenary sessions. During a very lively and inspiring session the Rt Hon Desmond Swayne stated that jobs provide security through food, housing and health as well as help educate children and provide tax revenues.

The Private Sector, not Governments have the answer – Continuing with his view on the need to focus on job creation the Rt Hon Desmond Swayne stated that Governments won't create the sustainable jobs required, they can only assist. The Private Sector has the answers, however he stressed that businesses need to worry about their impact as much as profit. This links back to the idea of becoming a business of purpose and delivering a positive impact – the key theme of the 15th Annual Responsible Business Summit

Liberate your data – As John Elkington put it “Digitalisation is bringing a tsunami of data” and this wave of data was definitely present through #GRI2016. Big data is helping companies disrupt industries. Data is allowing executives to ‘sell the benefits’ of sustainability a lot easier. However, in some cases data is paralysing professionals, as they ‘don’t know what to do with all this big data’. For a company to liberate its data, it needs to ensure its data is of good quality, has context and helps explain a story.

ESG data and investor community – A lot of talk, not surprisingly was about ESG data and its use. One interesting point was raised by Erika Karp, CEO at Cornerstone Capital, in that ESG data is financial data, it’s pre-financial and it just hasn’t expressed itself yet. The clear missing component at the event was lack of investor community. During one of the plenary sessions Investors were voted as being best placed to hold companies accountable to the SDGs. However, with a minimal investor presence at the event, it appears we have a lot of work to garner an appetite for our work amongst this key stakeholder group.

Again please do share your thoughts below on your experience of the event and key takeaways.

GRI  reporting  sustainability reporting 

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