Reporting Can Bridge Business and Sustainable Development
Last week, the UN unveiled a new business engagement architecture which the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) states is designed to provide an opportunity to leverage sustainability reporting to drive the private sector’s contribution to sustainable development.
At the UN Global Compact’s triennial Leaders’ Summit in New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon launched an implementation architecture that will address the pivotal role of business in helping to make the global vision of sustainable development a reality. The secretary general took the stage with Georg Kell, executive director of the UN Global Compact (UNGC), GRI Chief Executive Ernst Ligteringen, and Peter Bakker, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), to address an audience of more than 1,000 business leaders from around the world. Kell, Ligteringen, and Bakker came together to affirm plans for mutual collaboration among the three organizations to support and empower businesses to take action on sustainable development.
Each will bring unique strengths to the partnership — UNGC as a principle-based organization, GRI as an effective reporting standard, and WBSCD as a deep content-based organization. The collaboration can be seen as an important strategic step in the post-2015 development agenda. The concept of universally applicable Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) was first put forward at the Rio+20 Summit in June 2012. While the goals are yet to be determined, it will be necessary for all actors, including the private sector, to work toward them and monitor the contribution they make.
A key factor will be the need for businesses to demonstrate accountability and transparency by publicly disclosing their sustainability impacts in accordance with widely accepted guidelines. The GRI guidelines — the most widely used sustainability reporting framework in the world — are an effective tool for businesses to integrate sustainability into their strategies and to regularly assess and articulate their impact on sustainable development. GRI is a non-profit organization that promotes economic, environmental, and social sustainability through a comprehensive reporting framework.
To achieve alignment with key partners, GRI plans to work with UNGC and WBSCD to develop private sector guidance that will help companies enhance their sustainability management and reporting with a view to global sustainable development goals and targets.
“The presence of so many business leaders here today is evidence of the private sector’s willingness to embrace its role as a central actor to bring about change,” Ligteringen said at the Leader’s Summit. “But to play its part effectively, business needs a comprehensive, globally applicable framework through which to provide the degree of transparency and consistency that is required to make information useful and credible to markets and society.
“Thousands of companies have applied the GRI guidelines to their operations over the last decade. The guidelines support a standardized yet flexible approach to reporting, and are designed as a consolidated framework for reporting performance against different codes and norms for sustainability.
“As such, they provide an effective means for companies to understand and articulate how their own sustainability impacts relate to wider private sector action on sustainable development goals.”
A wide range of internationally recognized standards can be used to complement the GRI framework. The latest iteration of the guidelines — G4 — includes specific references to the UN Global Compact Ten Principles and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, making it easier for organizations to understand the synergies and complementarities in these standards, and use them in conjunction with one another.