State and Trends of Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) In the US

This morning, professionals from international development, business, government and academia converged to a conference room at the World Bank offices in DC to discuss how to increase the penetration of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) among US-based companies.  Inger Andersen (VP of Sustainability Development at the World Bank) welcomed participants to the workshop, highlighting the growing importance of GRI reporting to get business done better across sectors.  Andersen also highlighted the advances the World Bank has made in terms of its own sustainability reporting.  She credited GRI reporting for helping the World Bank assess its internal policies, and taking steps in 'walking the talk, including starting the process of getting their DC building LEED accredited.

Most of the workshop was led by Mike Wallace (@A_M_Wallace), the Director of Focal Point US - the US-based arm of the GRI.  Wallace facilitated a conversation among panelists from a wide range of perspectives and experiences:  Peter DeSimone (Director of Programs at the Social Investment Forum - SIF), John Garrison (Civil Society Specialist at the World Bank), Monika Kumar (Environmental Specialist at the World Bank Corporate Responsibility Program), Gema Sacristan (Senior Investment Officer at the Inter-American Development Bank), and Kathy Torrence (VP of Corporate Sustainability and Community Partnerships at Calvert Investments).  Here are some of the highlights of the conversation:

Reporting leads to better performance.  Both Peter DeSimone and Kathy Torrence touched upon the challenges and difficulties for smaller firms to put together their own GRI reports.  Both recognized through that, as social investing entities, it is central for both SIF and Calvert to 'walk the talk' and provide a GRI report.  GRI reporting enables them to reach the level of transparency and accountability that they recommend their constituents and partners adopt for themselves. Both also commented that, through the GRI reporting process, they found out about internal processes and procedures that needed to be improved or changed.  Through reporting came improved performance for both entities.  Andrew Essreg echoed these insights and provided examples of increased performance through reporting from his experience as Sustainability Integration Specialist at the US Postal Service.

Another point of discussion was about the data showing that 45% of GRI reports come from European companies, while only 12% come from US companies.  Peter DeSimone believes that both cultural and legislative reasons are behind this difference.  Culturally, European companies face more scrutiny from their consumers and their investors than US companies regarding corporate transparency and sustainability.  Furthermore, the European Union implemented tighter regulation than the US Government as it relates to corporate sustainability reporting and transparency in general.  Both the cultural and legislative pressures have pushed European Companies to adopt the GRI reporting framework.

There are signs that pressure towards transparency, and sustainability is mounting in the US.  For instance, the New York Stock Exchange became a stakeholder in GRI in 2011.  Furthermore, Mike Wallace has recently met with Mary Schapiro, Head of the US Securities and Exchange Commission.  These meetings are encouraging as they send signals to investors and companies that momentum is building around the idea of driving greater corporate transparency and sustainability in the US.  As our Co-Founder Martin Smith pointed out: "Capitalism worked because people couldn't see into the kitchen".  Is the US getting ready to swing kitchen doors open?

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