Cities are getting a lot of attention for taking action on climate change. With cities having over 50 percent of the planet’s population and creating 75 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, this action is born out of necessity.
By 2050, cities will be even larger; it is estimated that they will have 70 percent of the planet’s population. With this expectation, cities are compelled to respond to increases in waste, housing demand, poverty, effluents, water demand, traffic congestion, and air pollution, just to name a few challenges. One of the ways they are responding is by sharing lessons learned with other cities. As a vehicle to share their stories, numerous cities are joining networks such as C40, ICLEI, and ANSI Network on Smart and Sustainable Cities.
In addition to joining networks, cities are preparing sustainability plans and progress reports. The plans typically state goals and targets for carbon emissions, economic initiatives, and waste management. These plans are assessed over time using periodic progress reports comparing actual results to targets. In most instances, cities use whatever reporting format they want. These reports are good for presenting what is working and what is not. Yet are unstandardized formats optimal for better management, transparency, and communication?
I think cities would be better served if they used the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. The GRI guidelines are used by 83% of the 250 largest corporations. So what does this have to do with cities? As the most widely used framework, it is known by many investors, governments, and NGOs. This means more people would be able to understand the cities’ GRI reports.
At a recent World Bank Group Webinar, I presented how the GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines can benefit cities. What are the benefits? The GRI G4 guidelines focus on an organization’s economic, environmental, and social dimensions. All three are necessary to measure a city’s progress toward sustainable development. The GRI G4 guidelines enable a city to report only what is important to that city. Cities have many challenges in common, but not all challenges are equal across them. In some cities, social issues such as human rights are more pressing whereas in others environmental issues such as air quality need immediate attention. By using a well-known, standardized framework, cities and stakeholders can monitor their progress from period to period. Does using the GRI framework allow for direct comparisons across cities? I do not think any two cities are directly comparable but using a standardized framework would make it easier to share the lessons that have been learned.
Another benefit is that GRI sustainability reporting metrics provide input for an integrated report. Integrated reporting shows how organizations create value in the short, medium, and long terms. This is especially relevant for cities as they plan for the future. An integrated report is intended to connect an organization’s environmental, social, and economic concerns. For example, if a city invests in electric buses powered with cheaper renewable energy, this investment creates value for the city in many ways. The city’s assets have increased because it purchased the buses. It now has a fleet of electric buses that will create value for the city by reducing yearly fuel and maintenance costs. Using electric buses powered by renewable energy reduces pollutants and carbon emissions which in turn improves air quality. With better air quality, the city improves the health of its citizens. As a result, health care costs are reduced. As shown by the electric bus example, an integrated report can explain how sustainability metrics are connected to creating value.
Cities need to prepare GRI reports as they plan for a sustainable future. Take a look at some pioneering cities that have adopted the GRI framework. The list includes Chicago, Atlanta, Melbourne, Dublin, and Warsaw.