Transparency—a Status Report

Where the sustainability movement might be headed.

 By Mike Wallace

After almost four years as director for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), I am about to end this amazing experience. At year’s done, I will be on to my next chapter in this field.I couldn’t be more proud than to have represented the concept that Drs. Massie and White created back in 1997 Accounting for Sustainability, or more honored to be able to support GRI’s expansion into the United States and Canada.

Due to an incredibly supportive North American network in conjunction with the awakening in North America as to the importance of credible sustainability reporting, GRI reporting has more than doubled since we opened offices here in the fall of 2010. This has been repeatedly documented by numerous 3rd party reports such as:

These are exceptional measurements of progress for our field, as well as for GRI. I am, however, struck by the interesting gap that still exists in this field – the field’s desire to continually focus, criticize and expect publicly traded companies to be solution to all things sustainability.

While we might think the S&P500 or Russell 1000 are the best targets for changing the sustainability field, there are massive footprints all around us that are not being measured, let alone managed or even questioned.
How can you assess the sustainability of a company without understanding its context within the planetary system, or within the specific nations where it operates?

The Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint is a globally accepted approach that lets us all understand humanity’s impact on the planet and at the national level. Countries also have boundaries of operation, employees, buildings, power needs, massive supply chains and thus “footprints.” Without understanding the context
of planetary and national sustainability performance, it’s hard to accurately assess the sustainability performance of corporations. Read more at Global Footprint Network.

Regional Sustainability
Perhaps you are more focused on your region, well many global initiatives also have national and regional activities that can help you.GRI has a significant amount of interaction globally at the regional level due to its Focal Points.

Here in the U.S,. there is an existing regional model that is being developed to help integrate GRI reporting along the lines of White House Council of Environmental Quality’s Executive Order 13514. The implications and results of such an action can be found in the article US Federal Community Marches Into a Sustainable 2012. You will see that very large US agencies are already using GRI to report their own sustainability performance and, as is always the case, they are looking at their supply chain.

As part of this evolution, GRI is working to connect a range of organizations – both public agencies and private firms in the discussion about the connectivity of their respective and regional sustainability agendas. For instance, the State of Washington’s Department of Ecology is the first US state EPA to publish its own report – Ecology’s Global Reporting Initiative Report. As the overseer of environmental performance across the entire state, this state agency has decided to take the next step and voluntarily report its own sustainability performance by applying GRI – a first in this country. Only 49 more states to go, but in the meantime this precedent has caught our attention and the attention of others in Washington DC, since Washington State is in Region 10 of the federal regional system.

Consider the implications—think of the cities in the region, the air and marine ports, local branches of the federal government that operate in the region, and of course the public, private, large and small corporations that are based in Washington and how they are all connected. Think of the non-profit institutions, universities and healthcare providers. Think of the common ground they share due to the citizens, employees and supply chains that are all connected. Consider the impact if they all lined up their sustainability efforts and all managed, measured and reported their sustainability performance using the same globally accepted approach and linked it to the globally accepted approach for measuring the planet’s own footprint. What sort of clarity might that provide for all of us? What sort of improvements could we all make if we really had a clear and comparable picture? Could we develop similar regional programs and spread them around the country, like they are doing in Spain – Building Capacity in Catalonia?

Stay tuned!

Posted October 2, 2013 in Social Responsibility