Mar 23, 2023 · 7 minute read

5 things you didn’t know about the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework

Andrew Salvador
Carbon Sustainability Analyst

In this article, you’ll find

  • GRI is the most widely used ESG reporting framework
  • GRI recently released a new set of standards
  • There is now only one way to report ‘In Accordance’ with GRI
  • Sector Standards and Topic Standards are mandatory
  • There is increased focus on materiality, human rights, and due diligence

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a global ESG framework Opens in a new tab that provides universal standards for organizations to disclose performance metrics around the topics of sustainability, the economy, and people. GRI is used around the world, with reporting entities from over 100 countries, and can be used by both public and private organizations of any size. GRI does not provide a score to reporting entities, nor does it require third-party verification of performance metrics (although strongly recommends it), and as such is truly all about providing a standardized framework for organizations to report their impacts and provide transparency to their stakeholders.

Here are 5 things you might not have known about the GRI framework and some things to keep in mind this reporting season:

1. GRI is the most widely used ESG reporting framework

GRI is the most widely referenced ESG reporting framework, with the standards being used by over 10,000 organizations in over 100 countries. According to KPMG, over 78% of the top 250 companies by revenue use the GRI Standards and that around 80% of the top 250 companies report on their carbon emissions targets, regardless of the framework.

In addition to English, the newest versions of the GRI standards are also available in Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, and Simplified and Traditional Chinese, with plans on publishing translations in Arabic, French, German, Indonesian, and Italian by the end of 2023. The GRI Standards are also aligned with many other global standards and frameworks, including the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB Opens in a new tab), CDP Opens in a new tab, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals Opens in a new tab among others. These linkages allow reporting entities to use disclosures in GRI to cover multiple reporting frameworks and simplify the reporting process.

2. GRI recently released a new set of standards

GRI published a new set of standards in October 2021, which recently went into effect January 1st, 2023. This is the first major update to the GRI standards since publishing the first set of standards in 2016. While reporting entities were previously allowed to report using either the old or updated set of standards, as of January 1st, 2023, reporting entities are required to use the new set of standards to be in compliance with GRI.

The new standards are:

  • Updated Universal Standards
  • New Sector Standards
  • Updated Topic Standards.

The revised Universal Standards include mandatory disclosures and are broken out into 3 separate standards:

  • GRI 1: Foundation 2021
  • GRI 2: General Disclosures 2021
  • GRI 3: Material Topics 2021

These Universal Standards take the place of the old set of GRI standards GRI 101, GRI 102, and GRI 103, and contain updated information and disclosures aligned with the 2021 revisions.

3. There is now only one way to report ‘In Accordance’ with GRI

While the 2016 version of the GRI standards offered a ‘Core’ and ‘Comprehensive’ option depending on how stringently an organization wanted to adhere to the standards, the new 2021 update provides only one way to report ‘In Accordance’ with the GRI Standards. To report in accordance with GRI there are 9 different requirements a reporting entity must meet:

In accordance requirements (GRI 1: Foundation 2021):

  • Requirement 1: Apply the reporting principles
  • Requirement 2: Report the disclosures in GRI 2: General Disclosures 2021
  • Requirement 3: Determine material topics
  • Requirement 4: Report the disclosures in GRI 3: Material Topics 2021
  • Requirement 5: Report disclosures from the GRI Topic Standards for each material topic
  • Requirement 6: Provide reasons for omission for disclosures and requirements that the organization cannot comply with
  • Requirement 7: Publish a GRI content index
  • Requirement 8: Provide a statement of use
  • Requirement 9: Notify GRI

Organizations may still report ‘With Reference’ to the GRI Standards if they cannot or do not wish to comply with all the requirements to report in accordance with GRI. Organizations may then pick and choose which standards they would like to report with reference to, however must still meet 3 requirements to report with reference to the GRI standards:

With reference requirements (GRI 1: Foundation 2021):

  • Publish a GRI content index
  • Provide a statement of use
  • Notify GRI

4. Sector Standards and Topic Standards are mandatory

The new Sector Standards are mandatory for all reporting entities within the relevant sector. Each Sector Standard provides a definition of the sector and the relevant industries it will be applicable for. Reporting entities must use any relevant Sector Standard available, which in some cases may mean using multiple Sector Standards. To date, GRI has only published 3 Sector Standards:

  • GRI 11: Oil and Gas
  • GRI 12: Coal
  • GRI 13: Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fishing

GRI has plans to publish 37 more for a total of 40 within the next few years.

GRI also updated the Topic Standards, withdrawing 3 of the previous standards for a current total of 31 Topic Standards. Reporting entities are required to report on all topics found to be material according to the GRI definition of material topics, however there is no minimum number of Topic Standards required. The numbering system and release year of the Topic Standards remains the same as the previous set of GRI standards.

5. There is increased focus on materiality, human rights, and due diligence

The new 2021 Universal Standards have been revised to align with UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct.

To align with these principles, GRI has:

  • Embedded human rights disclosures into the Universal Standards as well as updated their definitions of materiality and stakeholders, with a greater focus on an organization’s impact on human rights.
  • Defined material topics as ‘topics that represent the most significant impacts on the economy, environment, and people, including impacts on their human rights’, while stakeholder is defined as an ‘individual or group that has an interest that is affected or could be affected by the organization’s activities’.

The new standards also require reporting entities to disclose policies around human rights due diligence, as well as responsible business conduct.

Key Takeaways

The GRI framework provides a standardized set of disclosures and performance indicators for organizations in any location, in any sector, and of any size to report on their environmental, social, and governance metrics. With the new 2021 revisions, the GRI has refined these disclosures to ensure they capture all impacts an organization may have on the environment, economy, and people, as well as human rights, and to provide greater clarity, consistency, and usability of the GRI standards.

If you are interested in reporting to GRI but don’t know where to start, would like help navigating the new changes to the GRI standards, or are simply looking for an easier way to consolidate and report your data, nZero can help.

Our carbon management and accounting software accurately measures and consolidates your data and tracks your energy usage, emissions, waste, and water consumption for you to easily manage. Our pre-formatted reports provide the environmental performance data you need to report to GRI, while our Environmental Science & Sustainability team can assist with any questions you may have. Contact nZero for more information on how we can help.