Revised GRI Universal Standards

The most significant updates and how they will affect your reporting

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) recently published its revised Universal Standards, which will become effective as of January 2023. With increased alignment to other frameworks, the updated GRI Universal Standards strengthen the foundation of impact reporting.

More importantly, applying the revised Standards enables organizations to best position themselves to respond to emerging regulatory requirements, such as the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and the IFRS plans for enterprise value standards.

While only effective 1 January 2023, earlier adoption is encouraged. In this blog, we help you understand how the changes affect your reporting and prepare you for the transition.

GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards are the most widely used global standards for sustainability reporting. , Developed to enable consistent reporting across companies and industries, the GRI Standards allow users to provide clear communication to stakeholders regarding their sustainability matters.

To simplify the use and to reflect conceptual changes, in this revision, GRI updated existing Universal Standards and adds a new series to the modular system: the Sector Standards. The first sector Standard, Oil and Gas, has been published. 39 other sector-specific standards will be developed by GRI over the coming years, with agriculture, aquaculture, and fishing expected to come next.

While these structural updates requires organizations to re-learn how to navigate the Standards, the following content changes will have the biggest impact on how you report:  

1. More alignment with frameworks by focusing on due diligence and human rights

With the revision, GRI requires more transparency in reporting on human rights impacts and due diligence processes. Previously, human rights-related disclosures were addressed in the GRI 400 series on social topics. The revised Standards now include human rights in the definition of material topics and impact. All organizations are now required to disclose their processes for identifying actual and potential negative impacts on the economy, environment, and people, including impacts on their human rights across the organization’s activities and business relationships.

As a consequence, new disclosures are included on policy commitments for responsible business conduct, grievance mechanisms and other remediation processes, due diligence processes to identify actual and potential impacts, management of impacts.

2. More accountability through sharpened definitions of key concepts such as impact and material topics

So far, impact was defined as the effect a company has on the economy, environment and society. The new definition is much more comprehensive: Impact is now understood as actual or potential negative or positive, short-term or long-term effects, intended or unintended, and reversible or irreversible.

Material topics are topics that represent an organization’s most significant impacts on the economy, environment, and people, including impacts on their human rights.

3. Significance as the sole criterion for determining material topics, a revised assessment approach

GRI 3 Material Topics 2021 provides step by step guidance on how to determine material topics. Key elements are:

  • Impact should be assessed on an ongoing basis, instead of at the beginning of the reporting cycle
  • Significance, scope and likelihood of impact are now the sole criteria for determining material topics. With this GRI builds a bridge towards classical methods of risk management and elevates the meaning of sustainability reporting.
  • The dimension ‘influence on the assessments and decisions of stakeholders is no longer a standalone factor that determines whether a topic is material. Stakeholders still have a consultative function, yet, with less direct influence on determining material topics
  • The highest governance body needs to be involved
4. Only one way of reporting in accordance with GRI Standards

All organizations reporting in accordance with the GRI Standards are now bound by the same 9 requirements, outlined in GRI 1: Foundation 2021. The core and comprehensive options for reporting in accordance with the GRI Standards no longer exist. Organizations may therefore be faced with new disclosure requirements.

Author
Helen Miller

Helen Miller

Consultant, Sustainalize

Sounds complex? Feel free to reach out, we are happy to help!

Published on: 10 November 2021

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