1. Let me first recall a bit of history:
· UNEP activities in reporting date back to early 1993 when we started our work to stimulate individual companies - and industry associations - to report on their environmental performance, and the implementation of their voluntary commitments in the form of codes of conduct, and charters.
· Since then, UNEP and the London-based company "SustainAbility" have produced a series of reports on corporate sustainability reporting through its joint Engaging Stakeholders Programme. This programme has developed a strong reputation, among a variety of stakeholders as a credible authority on corporate reporting. It was one of the seeds, which has grown into the Global Reporting Initiative.
· We were therefore pleased to take up CERES' offer to become a partner in developing the GRI. CERES has been instrumental in finding financial support for the GRI. I wish to express UNEP's gratitude to the United Nations Foundation - under the leadership of Timothy Wirth - which has so graciously funded the GRI, assisting in the transition phase, now completed. Without this support we would not be gathering here today to officially launch the permanent GRI Secretariat.
2. Let me underline why the GRI is so important:
· UNEP encourages business and industry to become involved with other stakeholders in voluntary initiatives. It has always stressed that such involvement needs to be accompanied by reporting. Reporting following a standard format, and indicators, should be widely used. Such reporting provides the necessary management tools to measure progress, and to advance transparency and dialogue.
· In UNEP's work over the past ten years in initiating voluntary initiatives, with other international organizations, and industry sectors (such as finance, tourism, telecommunications, automotive and advertising), we have seen the need for regular sustainability reporting. We welcome the support given to UNEP, by the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General, in its role as leader of the development of the GRI, in close partnership with CERES. Cooperation with the other core UN agencies involved in the Global Compact of the Secretary-General, namely the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been most useful. (involvement of UNDP)
3. Let me highlight a few of the successes of the GRI to date that are particularly important to UNEP:
· The GRI Guidelines, developed by many of you in this room, are increasingly recognized as THE reporting standard worldwide. It is quite remarkable how over a short period of three years; the GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines influence many of the sustainability reports being prepared by companies today. This demonstrates that an increasing number of stakeholders, including the investment community, share the goal of the GRI to bring to corporate sustainability reporting, the same high standards and credibility, as we find today in financial reporting. The recent Enron experience only reinforces the need for such reporting.
· GRI's steadfast commitment to an inclusive and balanced process involving civil society organizations, business, labour groups and other stakeholders from around the world, is also timely, and is truly a new form of governance. GRI must not deviate from this process, which is key to achieving general acceptance of sustainability reporting, and ensuring both transparency and legitimacy - The rules of disclosure are designed, developed and disseminated, through an inclusive and balanced process.
· The "outreach" activities conducted: workshops all over the world, have been successful in raising the awareness of the various partners, and promoting their use of GRI Guidelines, and contributing to the GRI process.
4. UNEP is honoured to be involved in the creation of an institution that fully reflects a new form of governance - one built on equal representation of all stakeholder groups, and open, transparent and accountable governance principles. Many of you present here today have been absolutely fundamental to the success of the GRI. I thank you for your commitment, for your patience and for your leap of faith in bringing the GRI to where it is today. Many of you have taken risks in being involved with the GRI, many may still have questions about the GRI and the process. Today we mark the real birth of the GRI, there are many years ahead to debate issues, and ensure your voice is heard.
5. While much has been achieved, we should all be fully aware of the challenges we still face to firmly establish the GRI as the globally accepted framework for sustainability reporting:
· The GRI has an ambitious and innovative vision. The next year will be a decisive one as the GRI moves to its new location and fully develops the new governance structures. The GRI will need our continued support to move forward effectively. With schedules full of PrepComs and other preparations for the WSSD, and perhaps general malaise and pessimism - we cannot loose sight of this real example of successful partnerships, cooperation and concrete results.
· We know it is not easy to raise funds for the creation of a new organization. This is why GRI must be a high calibre body, yet lean and focused in its organization and mission. We must also be creative in ensuring stable and predictable resources. We know that GRI cannot survive on Foundation or government money alone.
· While GRI should be the "guardian" of the sustainability guidelines, updating them, adapting them for each industry sector, it will also use existing expertise, in particular of accounting companies: the GRI certainly does not want to verify all sustainability reports in the world!
6. In conclusion, let me say how proud UNEP is to have joined with CERES in the creation of the GRI back in 1997. UNEP is fully committed to the GRI in the long-term. I would like to thank again Bob Massie for his co-operation and leadership. Our thanks also go to Timothy Wirth, Amir Dossal and our other UN colleagues from the ILO, OHCHR, UNDP and the Global Compact for their consistent support and encouragement. Thank you.