Metropolis
Cities, Cities and sustainability reporting, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Integrated Reporting, Integrated Reporting, Sustainability, Sustainability Reporting

GRI Standards for Cities

Metropolis
Graphic Design by Michael White

City sustainability reporting would be improved if cities used the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Standards.

GRI Logo, 2015

The GRI framework is used by 74% of the 250 largest corporations. So what does this have to do with cities? As the most widely used framework, it is known by a variety of investors, governments, and NGOs. Many of the same investors, governments, and NGOs are scrutinizing city reports. If the city reports were prepared with a widely used standard, the reports would likely be better understood and more usable for decision making.

Cities have economic, environmental, and social impacts that should be measured in a systematic approach in order to be managed. The GRI Standards provide such an approach and encompass the triple-bottom-line by focusing on an organization’s economic, environmental, and social dimensions. All three are necessary to measure a city’s progress toward sustainable development. The GRI Standards state that organizations need to report only what is important to that city and to be transparent about its determination process.

What are some of the benefits? They are adaptable because they can be applied to any organization of any size and in any location. Cities can compare their progress from period to period. Does using the GRI framework allow for direct comparisons across cities? No two cities are directly comparable but by using the same standards sharing lessons learned would be easier. Cities can assess their economic, environmental, and social risks in addition to engaging their stakeholders about what impacts are important.

The GRI Standards provide metrics that could be used for input into an integrated report under the International Integrated Reporting Council Integrated Reporting <IR> Framework. The <IR> Framework allows organizations to demonstrate how they create value in the short, medium, and long terms. This is especially relevant for cities as they plan for the long  term. 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. Value is created each year because fuel and maintenance costs are reduced. The reduction in carbon emissions improves air quality, which results in the improved health of citizens. As a result, health care costs are reduced.

Health care cost reductions can be quantified and reported by a city. A 2014 study by a team of scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), RAND Corp., and the University of Washington, reported that costs saved from reduced health impacts of GHG reduction strategies in the U.S. are estimated to be between $6 and $14 billion annually in 2020. This means the resulting GHG reductions amount to health costs benefits of between $40 and $93 per metric ton of carbon dioxide eliminated.

Take a look at cities that have adopted the GRI framework. The list includes Chicago, Atlanta, Melbourne, Dublin, and Warsaw.

 

Chicago - River Walk and State Street bridge
Cities, Cities and sustainability reporting, ISO 37120, Sustainability Reporting

ISO 37120 – Cities’ Sustainability Reporting Option

Chicago - River Walk and State Street bridge
Photo by Michael J. White

There are numerous ways that cities can monitor their sustainability progress. One example is ISO 37120-2014 Sustainable development of communities — Indicators for city services and quality of life. As the first ISO standard for city indicators, it covers the three pillars of sustainability – economic, environmental, and social. The standard provides 100 indicators that include 17 areas, which are economy, education, energy, environment, finance, fire and emergency, governance, health, recreation, safety, shelter, solid waste, telecommunications, transportation, urban planning, wastewater, and water and sanitation. Cities of any size or location can choose which indicators to report.

What is in it for cities?

By using this set of standardized metrics, cities will see numerous benefits. Benchmarking performance and setting targets are a fundamental place to start. If you want to lower greenhouse gas emissions, you need to know what your emissions are. In addition, better management of city resources can be achieved with sustainability metrics. For example, keeping track of wastewater management initiatives can enable cities to manage more efficiently and effectively both financial and environmental resources. Urban planning can be facilitated by use of these indicators. These metrics can provide information about transportation, recreation, safety, and health to inform a city’s decisions about housing policies. In addition, comparisons with other reporting cities are possible on the World Council on City Data (WCCD) website.

An added benefit is the ability to obtain WCCD Certification. Certification levels depend on the number of indicators reported.

If you are involved with a city, this is worth looking into.

As a member of the Bloomington Commission on Sustainability, I will be working on applying this standard to the City of Bloomington, Indiana in the next several months. Stay tuned as I report about the process.

Chicago, Elevated Train.
Cities and sustainability reporting, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Integrated Reporting, Risk Management, Sustainability, Sustainability Reporting

Cities and Sustainability Reporting Revisited

24012774975_78cf3c0727_z-2Chicago ‘L’

Photo by Michael White

I advocate often for cities to prepare sustainability reports. In a previous blog, “GRI Reporting for Cities,”  I made the case for cities to use the GRI G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines so cities can manage their progress in achieving environmental, economic, and social goals.

So is there more can I say on this subject? You bet!

The focus on cities as a vehicle to sustainable development keeps gaining traction. City governments face daunting economic, environmental, and social challenges. SustainAbility has published reports that make the case for focusing on cities as a critical approach for improving the Earth’s sustainability. Cities may well be the key to addressing the planet’s many challenges, but they cannot solve them alone. In its report Citystates II The Case for Corporate Leadership in Urban Sustainability, SustainAbility encourages public private sector partnerships. It is a compelling argument.

There is an urgent need, and a huge opportunity, for local and international stakeholders to prioritize the sustainability requirements of cities, and with them, broader sustainable development. Chief among these stakeholders is business, which has both the opportunity and responsibility to take a leadership role (and the chance to reap substantial benefits in the process), and without which cities will be unable to innovate and scale their efforts at nearly the required pace. Though there are many leading examples of cities and companies working together to accelerate progress on urban sustainability, this agenda is only beginning to enter mainstream business thinking, and overall city-business collaboration remains underdeveloped in aggregate and challenging in practice.

The last comment strikes me as quite interesting, “…this agenda is only beginning to enter mainstream business thinking, and overall city-business collaboration remains underdeveloped in aggregate and challenging in practice.”

What can be done to bring this along?

Cities need to publish sustainability reports. By doing so they would be better able to communicate their sustainability strategy, risks, and opportunities. Cities need to be transparent so businesses can decide whether to engage in a private public partnership or to relocate to the city.

Businesses analyze a variety of information to make decisions. A city sustainability report would be an important piece of the analysis. If a business is interested in building a new plant in a city, it may have concerns about the environmental health of the city.  A sustainability report would provide  information about a city’s greenhouse gas emissions, waste management, water quality, effluents, and transportation. The environmental health of a city would have impacts on its workers or its production processes. For example, water availability and quality may be essential to a company’s production processes or delivery of services. In the hospitality industry, water for cleaning, bathing, and cooking is a key part of providing services. City water sources and quality are important to the hospitality industry. Companies may think twice about building a hotel that would require their own large capital investments to insure sufficient water quantity and quality.

In addition, a sustainability report would provide information about the economic health of a city. Information about economic resources generated and disbursed by a city can indicate major economic issues facing a city. For example, a trend of decreasing tax revenues may affect how a city seeks to fund its services. Other sources of revenues such as public private partnerships may be on the rise. The disclosure of successful partnerships may encourage more. Without a sustainability report that discloses relevant economic metrics, a city may miss opportunities.

Cities can also help themselves be more efficient and effective by reporting. For example, reporting energy, water, and fuel usage enables a city to provide benchmarks. Targets can then be established to reduce future usage and costs. Reporting on the quality of services delivered through customer satisfaction feedback can provide information about a city’s effectiveness. Customer satisfaction would be a metric under products and services in the social category of a sustainability report. Cities can identify areas that need improvement. A well-run city can communicate its progress and effectiveness by disclosing relevant metrics in a sustainability report.

How can we convince cities how important sustainability report is to their future? Let me know what you think.