An interview with Mr. Manuel Meneses, Global Reporting Initiative
The DFGE – Institute for Energy, Ecology and Economy is part of the GRI Community. GRI is an independent international organization that has pioneered sustainability reporting since 1997. The GRI community helps foster links between organizations, to shape the future of reporting.
DFGE welcomes this initiative to be part of a larger network. In this sense, we want to show how COVID-19 has influenced corporate reporting, what has changed during the year and what will come in 2021. Mr. Manuel Meneses, Corporate & Stakeholder Engagement Manager at GRI, answered our questions in detail. He is the contact person for reporting organizations and GRI Community members in Germany, among other countries. Meneses engages with people and organizations in Germany to build a better understanding about the challenges of sustainability reporting and corporate transparency, provides support to the local Community members, and works along with them to advance the quality of reporting.
Will the new IR guidelines have any specific impact on GRI reporting? Are there best practices and guidances on integrated reporting with GRI?
Sustainability reporting is central to integrated reporting. GRI co-founded the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) in the belief that integrating sustainability disclosures along with key financial disclosures would facilitate broader uptake of sustainability information by investors, helping them to make better informed decisions.
As the IIRC is going through a revision process, we cannot tell how the new guidelines will relate to GRI reporting. What I can say is that the concepts of integrated reporting and sustainability reporting are fully complementary, and the GRI Standards are the usual starting point for many companies to provide robust sustainability metrics, based on a multi-stakeholder approach.
What changes might be anticipated in corporate reporting and disclosure and COVID-19?
GRI constantly engages with reporters and reporting organizations to better understand the challenges they are facing. During the summer we ran a series of five webinars about sustainability impacts and COVID-19, with over 20 speakers and 2,400 participants from over 100 countries which provided useful insights.
Participants assessed that there will be a stronger focus on risk management in future sustainability reports, and most agreed that sustainability reporting prepares companies to evaluate their risk and resilience in a more holistic way. In that regard, using the GRI framework provides evidence to their stakeholders that the organization focus beyond only financial risks.
The sustainability context has drastically changed as a result of the pandemic, leading to a reassessment of which topics are material, with changing expectations from stakeholders. Stakeholder engagement practices are expected to evolve and most of it will be remote or online, while governments are expected to increase in importance as stakeholders.
Most of the organizations that joined our webinars shared that they are looking at adding or increasing their reporting on sustainability topics as a response to the COVID-19 crisis. Some of these topics are related to business continuity and emerging risk management, holistic disclosures on health, contribution to overall economic recovery, while some of their stakeholders are expecting to see case studies on organizational responses to the pandemic and relief measures.
Finally, when it comes to preparing and publishing their sustainability reports, digitalization will increasingly be implemented into the reporting process, this will also be increasingly done at home, and the time and processes used to put together the reports may be affected. This will also affect assurance processes that will have to adapt to a different reality. Most importantly the demand for the reports seems to be increasingly forward-looking, the variety and amount of stakeholders looking at reports is likely to increase, as interest and awareness of ESG issues grow, and future reports would be re-orientated in line with revised strategies and goals affected by COVID-19.
How do partners like the DFGE work with GRI to advance sustainability and transparency?
DFGE has been a very active member of the GRI Community for five years, working closely with us to increase awareness of the GRI Standards, improve the quality of reporting, and through their membership fee, contributing to funding the development and update of the Standards. Through regular engagement, as with the rest of our GRI Community members, DFGE provides valuable feedback about the use of the Standards and the sustainability landscape within the German and European context.
This year we ran a series of virtual roundtables on five essential sustainability reporting topics: SDGs, Waste, Water, Occupational Health & Safety, Water, and Climate Change. For the latter we included DFGE as our expert guest speaker, to share their perspective and help us guide discussions about the challenges of reporting on climate change and harmonizing between different frameworks, such as CDP and TCFD.
When it comes to the translation of the Standards, GRI puts a lot of effort into having them translated into key languages as soon as possible after they are launched. For the German version of the Standards, there is a peer review committee whose members assess the translated text. Their job can be demanding, and they do it on a pro bono basis. For the latest translations into German, Dr. Thomas Fleissner, CEO of DFGE, provided peer review input.
What is new about the recently published Tax standard?
The current crisis has made more evident the importance of taxes to allow governments and public institutions to navigate through the pandemic and in the aftermath, build resilient societies and economies, and achieving the 2030 Agenda. In November 2019, GRI had launched the first global standard on the topic, GRI 207: Tax 2019.
The Standard includes a requirement for country-by-country reporting (CbCR). And as the GRI Standards are public reporting standards, all disclosures, including the disclosure on CbCR, are designed to be publicly reported. This will provide a better understanding of how an organization contributes to the different economies in which it operates.
It is important to point out that From 1 January 2021 onwards, any organization that has identified tax as a material topic and is reporting in accordance with GRI is required to use GRI 207: Tax 2019, in their reports.
What is coming for 2021?
In May this year, GRI launched GRI 306: Waste 2020, which provides a comprehensive understanding of the causes of waste-related impacts and where in the value chain waste is generated. Reporting organizations that have identified waste as a material topic are encouraged to start using it as soon as possible in their reports and other materials.
A major highlight is the revision of the Universal Standards and we can expect to see the release of the updated Universal Standards during 2021. The reviewed version will embed new mandatory human rights-related disclosures for all reporting organizations in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and OECD instruments. The updated Universal Standards would also seek to improve the quality and consistency of reporting and the overall usability of the GRI Standards and enable first-time reporters and SMEs to apply them more easily.
The first three pilot Sector Standards are currently under development. These Standards will provide authoritative guidance on specific sectors’ most significant impacts and therefore likely material topics for organizations. From 40 high impact sectors identified, for 2021 it is expected to release the Sector Standards for Oil & Gas, Coal, and Agriculture & Fishing.
This year the GRI Academy was successfully launched along with our Professional Certification Program. The Academy is an online training platform that improves access to high-quality learning opportunities for people working in sustainability and sustainable development roles. The Certification Program is a sustainability curriculum that delivers globally applicable professional development on the GRI Standards and offers professionals an opportunity for continuous learning and upskilling and becoming a GRI Certified Sustainability Professional. In 2021 all our GRI Community members will receive a 25% discount for the GRI Academy or the Professional Certification.
How DFGE can support?
DFGE is very grateful for the opportunity to work together with GRI. Our CEO and founder Dr.-Ing. Thomas Fleissner confirms Mr. Meneses’ statements by adding:
“As Chairman of the GRI Peer Reviewers Committee, I firmly believe that collaboration between the various parties, such as with the GRI Community, is key for the future of sustainability, as it drives further actions and fosters more understanding. I am very happy to support GRI in the translation process and looking forward for more interactions”.
If you want to learn more about the GRI, please check Global Reporting Initiative. If you need support in terms of GRI reporting, visit DFGE’s website or contact us at . Together, let’s “shape the future of sustainability reporting”!