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Why collaboration is top of the agenda for the Global Reporting Initiative

 

Collaboration

If sustainability reporting organisations do not collaborate, the results could be “catastrophic”, says new GRI CEO, Michael Meehan. Photograph: Andrew Winning/REUTERS

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Why collaboration is top of the agenda for the Global Reporting Initiative” was written by Jo Confino, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 23rd July 2014 12.27 UTC

The burgeoning world of sustainability reporting is in danger of fragmenting and sowing confusion unless the growing number of frameworks start to collaborate, the new CEO of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has warned.

In his first press interview, Michael Meehan tells Guardian Sustainable Business of the need to find common ground between the GRI, which mainstreamed the concept of corporate reporting, and new emerging reporting organisations. These include the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), and the US-based Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), which is developing sector specific guidelines.

Collaboration

Relations between GRI and SASB, in particular, have been tense in the past, but Meehan insists that the two organisations should be seen as complementary to each other.

He has already met with leaders from all the other reporting frameworks and says there is a desire from them all to co-operate but hard negotiations lie ahead.

Meehan says the failure to reach agreement would be “catastrophic”. “The risk could range anywhere from decreased reporting to decreased quality of reporting. But I think the more like scenario is going to be additional confusion in the marketplace, which is the worst thing.”

He goes out of his way to reach out to SASB in particular, saying that he likes its approach and it would be a mistake for the GRI to think it is the only game in town.

“Now we have different frameworks that are looking at very specific applications of sustainability metrics and corporate reporting,” he says, “I don’t view these as competitive at all.”

“But in nascent markets, there’s this notion of false competition, whether it’s the organisations themselves or more often the market, where they see two frameworks and they go ahead, they must be competing. Also central to this is this whole definition around materiality. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard we really need to have one definition of materiality. That’s up to the frameworks to be able to agree on a set of definitions.”

A huge opportunity

Looking ahead, Meehan believes a key opportunity for the GRI is to think of itself as an open platform, in similar fashion to Oracle or Apple, that other organisations can use as a springboard to build businesses or projects.

“When it comes to opportunities for technology in sustainability, we’re really just scratching the surface,” he says. “That’s a huge challenge but also a huge opportunity. For it to be successful, you need very high quality data, great infrastructure, great architecture and great partners.”

Meehan acknowledges the GRI needs to stay nimble on its feet, given that the issues that companies are being held accountable for continues to expand.

Another priority for him is to improve the quality of those companies that are already reporting and he points in particular to the poor standards of reporting by businesses in the US and China. Meehan warns that poor reporting leads to greenwashing and a loss of consumer confidence and that in this more transparent world, businesses are increasingly going to be held to account.

While the GRI has tended to focus on larger companies, Meehan says work will continue to encourage smaller companies and organisations such as universities to report on their social, environmental and economic impacts. He also welcomes moves in various countries towards mandatory reporting and tougher regulation.

Evolution, not revolution

It should come as no surprise that Meehan believes that good quality data can change the world, given he has spent many years running metrics-based businesses in the US and Europe that focused on everything from sustainability management systems to supply chain technologies.

 

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