A Few Steps Forward

The sustainability and transparency movements have never been stronger. Don’t stop now. Come join us.

By Mike Wallace

It’s been two years since the Global Reporting Initiative launched our Focal Point USA at the New York Stock Exchange in January 2011. While there has historically been steadier growth and expansion of GRI-based reporting across Europe, the uptake of sustainability reporting and the use of the GRI Guidelines in the U.S. has gone from strength to strength over the last couple of years.

We have entered an age of accountability for businesses of all shapes and sizes and a lot more exposure is being given to the way companies perform when it comes to environmental, social and governance metrics.

New research released by GRI’s data partner in the USA, the Governance & Accountability Institute (see www.ga-institute.com/) shows that companies that disclose their sustainability performance are outperforming those that don’t. What’s more, the correlation therefore sustainability and financial performance is getting stronger with the passage of time. The research also confirms that investors and stakeholders are now, more than ever, expecting disclosure on corporate transparency and sustainability.

The main finding of the study is the uptake in reporting by S&P 500 companies. According to the research, the number of S&P 500 companies that are producing sustainability reports rose from 19 percent in 2010 to 53 percent in 2011. This means that companies in the S&P 500 Index that don’t report on their sustainability performance, are now in the minority.

These results are extremely encouraging. In a way, they prove what a positive effect GRI’s presence in America is having. But we can’t afford to be complacent. Yes, a steadily increasing number of companies are realizing the value of measuring and managing risks, and taking advantage of opportunities arising from their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. However, while the absolute number of reports from U.S. companies is now higher than that of most other countries, U.S. companies that appear in GRI reporting is relatively low as a percentage of all global companies (especially when compared to peer and competitor companies in other industrial nations).

As our data partner in the U.S., Governance & Accountability Institute works closely with us to capture new and relevant information about sustainability reporting and GRI reporting in particular. This study is a very important resource, showing that the benefits of sustainability reporting are becoming increasingly obvious. We expect this positive trend to continue and we look forward to strengthening our collaboration with the Governance & Accountability Institute and to seeing further growth in U.S. reporting in the future.

A key element of GRI’s mission to make sustainability reporting standard practice is the incremental revision of its Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. GRI’s fourth generation of guidelines—G4—will be launched at the upcoming Global Conference on Sustainability Reporting in Amsterdam in May. This three-day event will provide participants with the most up-to-date information on sustainability reporting, and will feature training sessions, workshops, and unique networking opportunities. No doubt, the discussion around the future of sustainability reporting will be a key issue.

GRI’s Focal Point USA will be facilitating North American participation at the conference by leading a North American delegation. The delegation consists of GRI’s closest North American supporters, including the Focal Point’s founding sponsors, sector leaders, training partners, organizational stakeholders (which, by the way, includes the magazine that you’re holding in your hands), and delegation sponsors. The Focal Point is adding an additional day to the conference on Tuesday May 21 with a day trip and a seminar with cocktail reception at NYSE Euronext in Amsterdam.

Other special side events, aimed at providing delegates with detailed information about G4, are being developed, and in the run-up to the conference, the Focal Point will be organizing several events and master classes in North America to introduce the latest set of guidelines.

These events and master classes will kick-off in New York in mid-April. GRI is seeking one sponsor for each of these events, each of whom will be recognized equally for their support and will be exclusively connected to their selected event.

For more information about these events and sponsorship opportunities, please contact GRI’s Focal Point USA office. And of course, don’t forget to book your spot at the conference in May.

Two years after the launch of GRI’s Focal Point USA, the North American sustainability reporting landscape looks to be evolving. To stay up to date with GRI’s activities in the U.S. or to arrange to become part of the G4 process at the May conference, please visit us at www.globalreporting.org.

Mike Wallace is director of the Global Reporting Initiative’s Focal Point USA.

Posted March 7, 2013 in Compliance & Governance