Tag Archives: CSR

Assurance and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

Late afternoon light on Lake Michigan, Evanston, IL

Late afternoon light on Lake Michigan, Evanston, IL

Having just finished revising my book, Sustainability Reporting: Getting Started, assurance and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) are on my mind.  In my previous post I wrote about why we need to have sustainability reports assured. We hope that we can believe what we read in sustainability reports; third party assurance may give us some level comfort about the accuracy of the information reported in them.  Accuracy is never guaranteed, but at least it is a step in the right direction.

Because the GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines is the most widely used framework for sustainability reporting, they figure prominently in the landscape of reporting.  GRI pronouncements about assurance have significant consequences for how assurance is provided  and reported in sustainability reports. Although the GRI 
recommends the use of external assurance, it is not a requirement to be ‘in accordance’ with the Guidelines
.

The Guidelines do have something to say about how assurance reports are disclosed. Organizations that want to be “in accordance with” the GRI guidelines are required to indicate whether they have an external assurance report. In addition, for each disclosure in the sustainability report, the organization has to say whether or not it has been assured. In essence, it is a checklist of what has and has not been assured by an external third party.

The GRI has issued a clarification and a change to the guidelines!

On August 5, 2015, the GRI Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB) issued an interpretation on how an organization should reference its external assurance reports. This interpretation acknowledges there is confusion about assurance reports because readers do not always understand the language in them. Assurance reports come in many different permutations so this statement rings true. The recently issued interpretation recommends that organizations explain the assurance standards used, the level of assurance obtained, and any limitations of the assurance process.

The GSSB decided that organizations are no longer required to indicate assurance for each disclosure.  Basically, the checklist is gone. Instead, reporters will provide readers with a summary of the assurance process and what the report means. This helps the reporters and the readers to understand more about what is being assured and how.

I think this change in how an organization reports its third party assurance is a positive step for reporters and readers. GRI’s stakeholders are seeking improvement to the guidelines and the GRI GSSB is responding in ways that are making the assurance of sustainability reports easier to understand.

 

 

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) + Integrated Reporting Training

Indiana University Memorial Union

Indiana University Memorial Union

GRI Sustainability Reporting + Integrated Training

I will be one of the trainers at this event on the beautiful campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Please take a look at this exciting training opportunity in September.

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)/Integrated Reporting (IR) Training  is being offered by ISOS Center for Corporate Social Responsibility in collaboration with the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA). The training session will cover the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) sustainability reporting framework and Integrated Reporting (IR) at the Indiana Memorial Union (900 East Seventh Street) from Thursday, 24 September to Saturday, 26 September. The training sessions will cover a wide variety of issues related to sustainability reporting.

Public Panel on “Who’s Responsible for Sustainability?” – Free Event!!

24 September 2015, 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm, University Club, Indiana Memorial Union
In conjunction with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)/Integrated Reporting (IR) Training, a panel discussion entitled “Who’s Responsible for Sustainability?” will be held at the Indiana Memorial Union’s University Club.  Indiana University has invited sustainability leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to highlight their efforts to address complex social, environmental, and economic challenges. Panelists will include:
· Bill Brown, Director of the IU Office of Sustainability;
· Jesse Kharbanda, Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council;
· Karen Cecil, Director, Global Environmental Sustainability Environmental Strategy &    Compliance, Cummins Inc;
· Maria Koetter, Director of Sustainability, Louisville, KY, Metro Government

I hope to see you in Bloomington!

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Chicago Training

Cloudgate in Chicago's Millennium Park

The “Bean” or more precisely, “Cloudgate” in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

If you want to learn about the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework for sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting, I will be teaching a two-day training event in Chicago, August 27-28, 2015. To register, visit http://www.isoscsr.org/trainings/gri-training-chicago. We should have a great time in a great city!

Assurance is key to justifying trust in sustainability reports

Assurance sounds so reassuring! Something that is assured should give you confidence that it is credible. Shouldn’t it?

Consider the case of audited (assured) financial statements conducted by independent CPAs. Let’s say that they give an unqualified or “clean” opinion to a company’s financial statements. After reading such a report you should have confidence that the numbers are “fairly” presented. But what does fairly presented mean? It does not necessarily mean that the company is doing well. It only means that the numbers and information contained in the report fairly represent what is going on with the company. Financial statement audits are done in accordance with generally accepted auditing standards, and the final audit report must use standardized wording. Indeed there aren’t a lot of choices in how the audit is done or in how the report is worded.

What about assurance for sustainability reports? Unlike financial statement audits for publicly held companies, assurance isn’t required and standards are still developing. Yet demand for report assurance is increasing as more people depend on sustainability reports to make decisions about these companies. They want to be assured that the information in the report is accurate.

What are the options for report assurance? There are several choices to be made. First, who is doing the assuring? There are many groups (e.g., accountants, consultants, engineers) that do this work and each of them has a different perspective on report assurance. Second, which standards do they use in evaluating the report? Some standards are intended to evaluate stakeholder engagement and materiality processes while others are intended to attest to the accuracy of the information presented. The scope of the assurance also varies. Some companies, for example, only have their greenhouse gas (GHG) emission disclosures verified while others have a review of the entire report conducted.

In my next post, I will talk more about these different assurance options.

Can you trust the content of sustainability reports?

I have been away for a few weeks finishing the second edition of my book, Sustainability Reporting: Getting Started, to be published soon by Business Expert Press. The second edition is up-to-date with discussions about the GRI G4 guidelines, Integrated Reporting <IR> framework, and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) guidelines. When the new edition is available, I will let you know.

In the past few weeks, I have read a lot of published GRI G4 sustainability reports. A whole lot! It was exciting to see so many organizations reporting. The people who wrote them ranged from novice to experienced reporters. Some were great reports with seemingly transparent details about their environmental and social impacts. Some were not as forthcoming.

For example, one of the GRI human rights indicators, (G4-HR12), requires reporting the “number of grievances about human rights impacts filed, addressed, and resolved through formal grievance mechanisms.” While a few of the companies disclosed that there were mechanisms to deal with human rights violations, they then reported that the number discovered was confidential. Why is the number confidential? Why did they bother to report this indicator at all? It does their stakeholders no good to say there were problems, but that they have chosen not to disclose them. Let’s hope their stakeholders demand answers to such questions.

I felt much better about the transparency of companies that did report how many grievances were filed and how many were resolved. But should I feel better just because they published the numbers? Are these numbers accurate and how would a reader know? As external stakeholders, how would we know if anything in the report is trustworthy? Getting companies to publish sustainability reports is progress, but the next push in sustainability reporting is assurance of report content by independent, third parties.

Stay tuned for my next blog posts when I talk more about assurance.