GRI's 5th Global Annual Conference 2016 - Key insights from Gail Boucher

This year's global conference on sustainability reporting attracted 1,200 participants from 77 countries creating a significant forum for the exchange of experiences, knowledge and learning. Gail Boucher, our lead sustainability trainer, summarises her key takeaways from the three days' discussions.

GRI G4 will transition to a Standard – GRI is further evolving the G4 Reporting Framework into a Standard. The draft standard is available on the website now – which is currently open for consultation. So review them and provide comments to GRI – after all they would like as much input as possible on this new development.

Sustainability reporting is becoming mainstream – The last twenty years has shown a lot of change and developments in the sustainability reporting space. Sustainability reporting is ‘young’ by comparison to financial reporting; however we are getting closer to achieving better reporting using the various publicly available tools. Further change is necessary to streamline all the various reporting guidelines available – so that we can achieve peer industry comparability and reporting structure.

Find sustainable solutions – through efforts by organisations to create change by incorporating forward progressing targets that create sustainable change. Organisations can create change in advance of regulations, perhaps making the need for further regulations unnecessary.

Maximise the power of advertising – advertising is a powerful tool and by utilising it to promote positive messages that link sustainability to the brand, people’s awareness and habits may change for global benefits for people and the environment. 

Forget the ‘S’ word – ‘Sustainability’ may now have some negative connotations that drive people away – so rebrand it with a new phrase, such as ‘Quality and Purpose’. An organisation aims to achieve high quality products with purpose that reduces resources and better’s people’s lives.

Two Reports Required? – the view was that even with Integrated Reporting you will still need two reports to provide all the necessary information. One Integrated Report (financial with sustainability impacts) that provides the long term outlook on the most important issues that affects the company over the near to long term, as well as a Sustainability Report to provide further information necessary for stakeholders to make a full assessment of the reporting organisation.

Does transparency equal trust? – if an organisation is transparent in reporting, does that mean it is really trustworthy? Can you measure trust? A point of contention in the conference as some said you can measure it, and others stated that it is so personal you cannot. Perhaps transparency only builds trust only if organisations tell the truth and can support all of their statements.

Is assurance worth it? – academics presented their findings on research of assured reports over time and found that the necessary quality of assurance of reports was lacking in so many ways. Not enough information was assured in the reports and the methodology was not rigorous enough. The quality of assurance needs to change in order to make sustainability reports reliable and trustworthy sources of information.

Further information on the event can be found using the #GRI2016 on twitter – there you will find many tweets from me and other participants, providing you with further insight into the thoughts during the conference. Contact me on 0203 772 8983 to discuss further.