GRI Standards: What They Are and How to Use Them in Sustainability Reporting

Spain is currently among the top ten countries that promote the publication of social responsibility reports with the GRI certification. In fact, Spain remains at the same level as countries like the United States. Internationally recognised, the GRI distinction is the most widely used in the field of ESG (environmental, social governance).

What is the GRI?

The Global Reporting Initiative has developed metric that makes to define the impact of companies in the social, environmental and economic fields. This extends to encompass respect for human rights or sustainable development. On the official GRI YouTube channel, they offer an explanatory video about the approaches advocated by the organisation:

The purpose of these standards is to facilitate sustainability reporting. In this sense, they provide very valuable information to interested parties, such as investors or clients, as well as specifying the work which needs to be done by companies to mitigate the impact of global warming.

Therefore, the GRI is a sustainability standard that puts resources in the hands of companies. Among them, the Global Reporting Initiative highlights these three:

  • It has the potential to be used by both SMEs and large companies or multinationals.
  • It is compatible with other European standards – an aspect that is defined as the principle of interoperability.
  • It constitutes a source of internal information that is transparent, objective and easily disseminated.

This initiative was created in 1997 with the aim of increasing the quality of sustainability reports.

Who uses the GRI standards?

Who uses the GRI standards?

According to an analysis by the Global Reporting Initiative, 4 out of 5 large international companies use GRI standards. In the official GRI introductory guide, they explain who can have access to this tool. Mainly, the following actors from the business and social landscape stand out:

  • Companies of any size.
  • Public or private entities and corporations.
  • Organisations of any sector or location.

The information that is disseminated and that has this seal is available to the general public, to the press and to research entities. Its purpose is to expand the information on the progress of sustainability by organisations. In any case, it is unavoidable to relate its scope to companies.

Thousands of organisations and corporations in more than 90 countries use the GRI standards. In addition, they have a presence in more than 20 stock exchanges and are included in policies in more than 40 countries. This reach is an indication of the importance these standards have in society. Similarly, they are within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals.

How are the GRI standards structured?

This system is divided into three main categories. They are separated according to their scope, but it is normal for an organisation to integrate several standards:

  • Universal standards : apply to all types of organisations.
  • Sectoral standards : based on specific fields.
  • Thematic standards : cover a specific issue.

For example, a standard may be related to the use of water (thematic) in agricultural activity (sectoral). Of course, it has to fit within one of the three into which the universal is subdivided:

  • Conditions and principles for using the standards.
  • Dissemination and information of the results.
  • Organisation of topics and coordination of standards.

How to report with GRI

Organisations have to focus on sustainability. This value, in turn, must be taken to three essential areas: society, the economy and the environment. The conditions for the inclusion of this metric are found in standard 1, which defines how the standards have to be addressed and disseminated.

Identify and assess impacts

The first phase involves recognising the different fields of action of corporate activity. Thus, the official guide establishes four primary practices. These areas work through the ESG criteria, which is the value of governance, social and environment:

  • Understand the organisation’s environment.
  • Identify current and future impacts.
  • Determine how important they may be.
  • Report the most relevant ones first.

Determine material issues

The organisation’s activity must be divided into areas of impact. After prioritising them (last point of the previous phase), a standard must be assigned to them . Subsequently, they will be quantified based on the documentation obtained in the company. The chosen topical standards will then be contrasted with those used in the sector.

Dissemination of Information

It is essential to publish the information obtained and, above all, the conclusions of the study. In order for this to be done, information will be provided on universal, sectoral and thematic metrics. Each of them must be classified according to the code assigned by Global Reporting. However, the organisations recognise that, with good cause, some criteria can be omitted.

Prepare the GRI content index and declaration of use

The statement of use is intended to inform about the scope of the publication. In other words, it communicates to whom the study is directed and in what way it is intended to be used. The table of contents organises the data so that the specialist reader can find it accessible.

How to integrate the GRI into sustainability reports or reports

When all the GRI standards have been captured, they must be incorporated into a sustainability report. The purpose is to produce a sample of current and objective data regarding the organisation’s commitment. At present, it is possible to complement them with other standards to obtain a more detailed analysis.

How to complement different sustainability standards

The European Commission approved the interoperability of the GRI standards in 2022. As a result, they will be aligned the guidelines of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). It also forms part of the European Green Deal .

To strengthen the consolidation of both standards, the GRI and SASB published a joint guide. The content, prepared in April 2021, proposes keys to align the two initiatives and, in this way, facilitate sustainability reporting for companies. Likewise, it can work as a comparative method within the same sector.

Another of the main contributions of this document is the delimitation of areas:

  • GRI is a guideline focused on the disclosure of the information collected.
  • SASB streamlines the method of issuing reports to investors and financial entities.

In short, it consists of a dual mechanism of action. On one hand, it correctly defines what each standard is for compared with its peer. Nevertheless, it sets out the utility of their joint use and raises the points of approval, making it easy for organisations to use them.

Different ESG reporting initiatives

In certain cases, companies may resort to standards other than those that have been detailed. The reasons vary greatly, but the important point is that the majority complement each other. In any case, it is essential to choose the most appropriate one:

  • GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) : universal in scope, it is focused on reporting on compliance with sustainability criteria. It incorporates tools and standards that are translated into metrics adapted to each topic and sector. The key point is the dissemination of the data and its comparison with those of the sector.
  • SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board) : a universal standard which aims to guide investors in choosing sustainable companies. To this end, it draws a line between economic means and their use for environmental purposes, with its objective being to position socially responsible organisations in a favourable light.
  • UN SDG (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals) : a universal standard, which is approved the United Nations, its Member States and business representatives. It serves as a roadmap to achieve greater sustainability by 2030. Numerous corporations adhere through their own synchronisation protocols.
  • TCFD (Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures) : With an ecological theme, it delves into the financial risks of poor governance. The latter is understood in the social, corporate and environmental sense. That is to say, the economic and strategic consequences of not taking measures that advance in the care of the planet.
  • GHG Protocol (Greenhouse Gas Protocol) : Ecologically themed, it prioritises the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It is aligned with the Paris Agreement, approved at the Climate Summit held in 2015. The objective is to keep the rise in global temperatures below 1.5 °C by 2030.
Source: Nordea

As explained, the GRI standards are a tool available to all organisations. The important thing is to adopt a realistic study and analysis model based on comparable conditions. The dissemination will serve as a means of information and comparison, but it will also contribute to decision-making.

Do you want to report your sustainability information with GRI or combining it with other standards? Our APlanet Sustainability platform allows you to do this and much more. We have the most widely used international standards for you to use in your non-financial information management, storing all your data in the cloud. Contact us and we will clarify all your doubts or request your free demo now !

Subscribe to our resource hub to keep up to date with the latest trends in the sector


Recent Posts

ESRS: The European Sustainability Reporting Standards and how to apply them

European regulations on non-financial reporting have taken some big steps forward in recent times. In…

5 days ago


Content designed to help you on your sustainability and CSR journeys.

Subscribe to our resource hub to keep up to date with the latest trends in the sector. In this section you can find everything from articles, practical guides, case studies and webinars.

GHG Emissions: reduction and reporting as an opportunity for companies

GHG emissions or greenhouse gas emissions are one of the main environmental concerns of our…

2 weeks ago

Present and future of Sustainable Finances

We talk with Frederico Fezas-Vital about the social innovation methodology to solve problems and Social…

2 weeks ago

CSRD Directive: What changes does it bring for business?

The CSRD or Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive is one of the cornerstones of the European…

2 weeks ago

SFDR: what is it and how does it affect your organisation?

What is the SFDR regulation? What does it mean for businesses? This article will take…

3 weeks ago

ESG maturity: the different stages of a sustainable business

Download the ESG Maturity Guide to learn how to improve your ESG performance and achieve…

3 weeks ago