UNEP DTIE has for many years worked to stimulate individual companies - and industry associations through their membership - to report on their sustainability performance and the implementation of their voluntary commitments in the form of codes of conduct and charters. One key obstacle in advancing sustainability reporting in the 1990s was the absence of a generally accepted reporting framework, which would greatly enhance the credibility, comparability and comprehensiveness of corporate sustainability reports. UNEP addressed this need through its role as co-founder of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Since its inception in 1997, the GRI has worked to design and build acceptance of a common framework for reporting on the triple bottom line of sustainability - the economic, environmental, and social aspects. The sustainability reporting guidelines developed under the GRI are intended to be applicable to all types of organisations. The third revised or third generation (G3) version of the GRI guidelines was launched at an international conference in Amsterdam, October 2006.
Since 1994, UNEP and the London-based SustainAbility Ltd have produced various reports on corporate sustainability reporting through its joint Engaging Stakeholders Programme. This programme is designed to meet the ever-increasing demand for the benchmarking of corporate sustainability reports, and the further analysis of sustainability reporting at the sector-level. The joint publication between KMPG and UNEP, Carrots and Sticks for Starters I, summarizes existing regulatory schemes and summarizes arguments in favor of both voluntary and mandatory approaches. Carrots and Sticks II, an update on the first edition, is expected in May 2010.
Sustainability reporting activity in recent years has also included the publication of sustainability reports by public authorities. This has been accompanied by a debate on the role of government in advancing sustainability reporting, including exploration of the pros and cons of voluntary and mandatory approaches to reporting. UNEP DTIE has initiated its own efforts to promote reporting in the UN system and to facilitate debate on different policy approaches.
UNEP provides special assistance to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through The Efficient Entrepreneur calendar. On the basis of "You can't manage what you can't measure", the calendar introduces environmental performance measures through a month-by-month programme that ends with a simple SME environmental report.
UNEP and the CSCP have started developing a self-help guidebook provisionally entitled "Do SMART Business - Week by Week" for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) around the world. This guidebook aims to introduce the basics of environmental practice and social responsibility for managers and employees of SMEs, and includes related examples, commentaries and tips for action.
In 2006 UNEP also commissioned a critical review of the GRI as product and organisation. This was done to take stock after almost ten years of the GRI process, and to provide the GRI advice on possible future risks and opportunities in its further development. The review included a series of interviews, and presented to the GRI Stakeholder Council and GRI Board to assist their strategic planning. The resultant "Trends in non-financial reporting" (PDF - 0.97 MB) by the Global Public Policy Institute provides some critical questions related to future trends in sustainability reporting. Whilst somewhat limited in its numbers of interviewees and respondents involved, the scenario prognosis in the report has been cause for healthy debate. We will continue to monitor the trends closely, as we work with the GRI and others to promote greater uptake in sustainability reporting world-wide and the ability of the new G3 framework to advance reporting that adds value and enables benchmarking on material issues of the day.
G3 & supplements
The G3 or third generation of the GRI guidelines was launched at a major conference in Amsterdam in 2006. Leaders from the private and public sector and civil society convened to discuss the latest trends in sustainability reporting and the role of the G3 framework in promoting social responsibility.
The release of the G3 Sustainability Framework, with at its core the 2006 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, follows an extensive consultative and expert process started in 2003. This included a structured feedback process, involving survey feedback and regional meetings held in 2003-2004. During 2005 UNEP joined others in multistakeholder, technical working groups to draft and revise text.
The 2006 Guidelines provide an improved, practical and more user-friendly tool for use by reporting organisations. While the 2002 Guidelines included 11 reporting principles, reporting elements and 97 reporting indicators, the 2006 Guidelines include:
- 10 reporting principles;
- disclosure items; and
- 79 reporting indicators (of which 47 are core).
The general guidelines set out the principles and indicators that organizations can use to measure and report their economic, environmental, and social performance. A Sector Supplement is a tailored version of the G3 Guidelines which contains integrated commentary and new disclosure items specifically for a given sector. These supplements address the fact that some sectors face unique sustainability challenges and reporting needs that require specialized guidance, in addition to the universally applicable G3 Guidelines. The development of a Sector Supplement responds to these needs, and provides a platform for collaboration between those working in a sector and their stakeholders to define the new reporting guidance. Sector supplements are available for 15 sectors, including: Automotive, Financial Services, Mining and Metals, Public Agencies, Tour Operators, Telecommunications, Logistics and the Apparel and Footwear.
Resource documents provide additional information or examples on specific topics of interest to GRI users. These include topics, such as HIV/AIDS, where some reporters have a strong interest in disclosure beyond the material captured in the Guidelines. It may also include support for specific user-groups seeking to apply the GRI reporting framework to their organisations. Resource documents are a source of additional ideas, expertise, and knowledge to inspire both individual users and future GRI working groups.
These supplementary documents are available on the GRI website. UNEP DTIE encourages business organisations to join the GRI in developing supplementary documents in multistakeholder process.