GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards: Change shall come

Seemingly right on the heels of GRI G4 Guidelines is the GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards. Launched last 19 October 2016, its aim is to set a common language among companies for non-financial information disclosure and provide a means for even greater transparency on the economic, environmental and social impacts companies make.

The GRI Standards: an even better strategic reporting tool

While reception to the GRI G4 Guidelines have been positive and it remains the most widely used framework for sustainability reporting, the G4  guidelines are often subject to misinterpretation and reporting loopholes. We have seen sustainability reports serve as a platform to showcase revenue performance. Sometimes, imbalanced reporting occurs when positive impacts disproportionately outweigh negative effects.


Increase in report numbers of GRI G4 Reports in the GRI Sustainability Disclosure Database


Amidst stakeholder demand for accountability and transparency, the new GRI Standards will fully replace the G4 Guidelines come 1 July 2018. With its rollout, there is an emphasis on due communication as well as a shift towards economic, environmental and social impacts. The transition entails an enhanced format and the use of six new modular structures that provide better clarity on reporting specifics (more on this below).

Levelling up: from Guidelines to Standard

The transition is seen as a move from following reporting guidelines into adopting formal reporting standards to ensure both adherence and consistency.  While the Standards remain voluntary, language clarity already identifies what is required (shall), what is recommended (should) and what is optional (can). Clear too beyond the language change is the rigor required to apply the Standards.

“The GRI Standards make it much easier for companies to report non-financial information, using a well-understood shared language,” said GRI Interim Chief Executive Eric Hespenheide. “The Standards are more straightforward, making them accessible to potentially millions of businesses worldwide. Sustainability reporting, using the GRI Standards, is the best way for a company to disclose its economic, environmental and social impacts, thus providing insights into its contributions – positive or negative – toward sustainable development.” 1

Face change to the look of the report, Materiality is still at center stage

The Standards are based on the G4 Guidelines, there is no substantive difference in terms of the vigor in reporting, determining materiality and content, nor in the credibility of assurance practices. How material issues are prioritized remains the same, though specifics on what is reported against the materiality principle are more robust.

In Accordance Option is retained the same as G4

One of the changes is that the Principal Manual + Implementation Manual have become the Modular Standards and the Reporting Principles/In Accordance Criteria, General Standard Disclosures, and Disclosure on Management Approach are now GRI 101, GRI 102 and GRI 103.



Addressing cross-sectional issues, there are no longer Aspects, it is all Topics. These have been whittled down from 46 Aspects + Topics in G4 into 36 Topics as discussed in GRI 200 (Economic), GRI 300 (Environmental) and GRI 400 (Social). These include all Performance Indicators. No longer required, Sector Disclosures are referenced as guidance.

All the standards are numbered and there have been changes in order of Disclosure. Under the Standards, Grievance Mechanism is disclosed only if deemed material.


To be In Accordance, Report against GRI 101, GRI 201 and GRI 301 is required plus a minimum of one (1) material topic disclosure for CORE, and each disclosure required for each material topic for COMPREHENSIVE. While the selection of Standards in GRI 200, GRI 300 and GRI 400 are based on the selected material aspects (references may be made in isolation).

Making the change

As a strategic tool, a sustainability report processed in the right way is powerful. It articulates the sustainable development of companies from vision to goal to development to achievement.

From G4 to the Standards, materiality is the bedrock of sustainability reporting and this is what should be reflected. Materiality assessment is central to determining stakeholder view and the impacts, positive and negative, of the business throughout the value chain. From this, alignment to the Guidelines or the Standards will follow.

Adoption of the GRI Standards is a welcome opportunity to address stakeholder expectations of transparency and accountability and communicate a company’s sustainability agenda though the changes necessitated by the Standards, in the G4 templates and formats we have just gotten used to, are neither simple nor few. However, in theory, it should be easier and quicker to report on any significant changes within a given reporting period as the Modular Standard format accommodates piecemeal changes. This is particularly significant for companies already having management processes in place, able to gather solid information, on how sustainability is integrated well within the business strategy.

For companies that are new to Sustainability Reporting, bear in mind that the Standards are not yet fast approaching. Reporting processes can be analyzed and modified to be in alignment with the Standards. A gradual transition from G4 to the Standards should be planned to allot the necessary time and resources for data gathering and document preparation.


1 First Global Sustainability Reporting Standards Set to Transform Business. (2016, October 19). Retrieved from

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GRI G4 – Quick Look on what’s hot and what’s not!

By Karthik Subburaman, Country Manager, ECCI Group

GR4 logoGRI guidelines has been the globally accepted gold standard in non-financial reporting over the last decade . But with several questions around the credibility of the basis for rating companies as superior vs otherwise using applicability levels and different types of assurance, improvement of the guidelines for sake of clarity and better hold of the sustainability context was imperative.

GRI G4 – the next generation guidelines was released last thursday (May 23) officially at the Global Reporting Initiative Conference held in Amsterdam between May 22-24 2013. A bi-annual affair, this year’s event attracted close to 1600 practitioners from over 60 countries – with exactly equal number of men and women registrations. The script for inclusiveness and equality could not have been written better…

The G4 guidelines was touted to be an enhancement of the G3.1 guidelines in many areas while several of the components have been retained. Largely, some key objectives the guidelines that this change aims to achieve include:

  • Simpler and clearer guidelines that leave not too much to interpretation (by convenience)
  • Grounded on principles that help companies focus on ‘material issues’ rather than go merely by number of indicators
  • Make it simple for new reporters to take on the responsibility of non-financial reporting and take transparency to the next level

How far these objectives will be achieved will be answered in time as companies start adopting G4 guidelines but as in any new focus area there is clamor from the other side for intentional omission of focus / clarity on ‘sustainability context’ making the guidelines still a difficult set of best practices from the perspective of true sustainability!

Leaving opinions for a different post, here is a list of

Whats HOT – New additions / changes to the guidelines
Whats NOT – Omissions from G3.1

Whats HOT!

  • New ‘in accordance‘ criteria – It consists of two options: “Core” and “Comprehensive.” Core reports will include majority of the standard disclosures and a minimum of one relevant indicator per material aspect. Comprehensive will include all the standard disclosures and all of the relevant indicators for each material aspect. The biggest change from G3.1!
  • Its ALL about ‘Materiality‘ – While materiality is not new, the G4 framework more explicitly requires reporting efforts to center on materiality — impacts, risks and opportunities. What used to be a bunch of protocols to determine report content, now forms the crux of G4 reporting!
  • Open up your ‘boundary‘ – There is an exemplified need to consider supply chain and downstream processes through customer use as part of reporting still in line with materiality!
  • DMAs a double! – There are two separate DMAs (Disclosures on Management Approach) – general standard disclosures and specific standard disclosures. The latter along with the indicators are clubbed under the 3 major categories (Social, Economic and Environmental)
  • Indicators & disclosures plus some more! – There are some new indicators added with very few deletions. Special focus on governance related standard disclosures leading to 10 new additions!
  • Increased focus on Ethics & Integrity – Special mention as a standard disclosure area which was not originally separate. Calls for specific attention to aspects such as remuneration, transparency etc. making it relevant in today’s scenario

Whats NOT!

  • No A,B,C application levels – Application levels have been removed to give way to ‘in accordance’ criteria and increased focus on materiality!
  • No assurance based on application levels – With the removal of application levels, external assurance leading to ‘+’ ratings of sustainability reports is also not part of the G4 guidelines. However, assurance as a potential value-added intervention for credibility still exists!
  • Value chain assessments are gone – Value chain reporting of the organization has been removed and there is a specific intent to include supply chain as mentioned before

Personal Highlights

  • Potentially shorter reports – With a clear trend towards considering materiality aspects before reporting, overall length of reports might become shorter (especially as companies figure to perform appropriate assessments and prioritization)
  • Probably lesser uptake for assurance – to begin with! – With lesser clarity around the types as well as intensity of assurers on the aspects of materiality, going for external assurance could remain a wait and watch game for many!
  • Guidelines and implementation manual – The what & how… connected! With the intent to keep the guidelines close to inputs on its usage, there is a sense of ease and connection which might make it reporter-friendly.

To learn more about the GRI G4 guidelines and the updates from G3.1, please attend our upcoming Friday Forum on 7 June 2013 organized by Apex Global.

About Apex Global & ECCI

ECCI is the leading process improvement solutions provider in Southeast Asia, focused on process consulting, automation solutions and learning outsourcing services. We help companies achieve performance excellence by assisting them implement management systems and international standards/best practices across multiple domains and industries. ECCI has helped several top companies in the region implement GRI guidelines and prepare externally assured sustainability reports!

APEX Global (The Academy for Professional Excellence) is the learning solutions arm of ECCI – the leading process improvement solutions provider in Southeast Asia. Our sole aim is to promote performance excellence among professionals. We help our customers achieve greater success through effective, experiential and results-oriented training delivery.