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The Financial Express

New look of GRI: Setting new standards of sustainability


New look of GRI: Setting new standards of sustainability

Global Reporting Initiative or GRI is the independent international organisation that supports businesses and other organisations take responsibility for their impacts on various aspects through providing them with the global common language to report the impacts of social, environmental and economic aspects of the organisation. GRI is the contributor of the world's most widely used standards for sustainability reporting called 'GRI Standards'. The GRI's Headquarter is situated in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and consists of network of seven regional hubs ensuring to support organizations and stakeholders worldwide. The key mission of GRI is to help organisations to increase transparency while taking responsibility for their impacts on people and the planet. Recently, GRI has launched a new website signifying the continued delivery of sustainability standards that meet the needs of all stakeholders. The new branding captures a new logo, colour palette and imagery, all of which seeks to differentiate GRI in the marketplace by delivering a strong and recognisable identity to help communicate their role as the global catalyst for transparency. The website (www.globalreporting.org) has also been redesigned in line with the stakeholders' testing and research, with the content and structure focused on meeting the needs of all users of the standards. It is also optimised for viewing on mobile devices, reflecting changes in communications consumption.

Thousands of GRI reporters in more than 100 countries are advancing the practice of sustainability reporting and enabling businesses, investors, policymakers, and civil society to use their information to engage in informed dialogue and make decisions for a sustainable future.   GRI has also announced the publication of a new Charter on Sustainability Imperatives that commits to a decade of urgent action in South Asia to ensure the completion of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Organisations throughout the region are now encouraged to sign the Charter and commit to upholding the three principles: (i) Compliance: Adhere to all applicable national and sub-national laws and regulations wherever they operate; (ii) Ethics and governance: Act with the highest ethical standards and integrity, taking decisions and implementing actions in good faith; and (iii) Transparency and disclosure: Make public their performance on economic, environmental and social dimensions.

First, the organisations will publicly disclose their understanding of sustainability, either through a regularly published document or on an online platform. Second, they will state the specific SDGs they identify as material, setting out how they relate to their business and are integrated in their strategies and plans. Third, to commit to at least two new initiatives linked to the SDGs and showcase the impacts and business benefits that they lead to.

GRI was founded in Boston in 1997 following public outcry over the environmental damage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Their roots lie in the non-profit organisations CERES (Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies) and the Tellus Institute (with involvement of the UN Environment Program).  Ceres is a sustainability non-profit organisation working with the most influential investors and companies to build leadership and drive solutions throughout the economy. Through powerful networks and advocacy, Ceres tackles the world's biggest sustainability challenges, including climate change, water scarcity and pollution, and inequitable workplaces. Tellus Institute is also a non-profit research and policy organization to bring scientific rigor and systemic vision to critical environmental and social issues.

 The first version of what was then the GRI Guidelines (G1) was published in 2000 - providing the first global framework for sustainability reporting. The following year, GRI was established as an independent, non-profit institution. In 2002, GRI was relocated to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and the first update to the guidelines (G2) launched. With participation in sustainability reporting spreading around the world, GRI started opening a series of regional offices.

In 2016, GRI transitioned from providing guidelines to setting the first global standards for sustainability reporting - the GRI Standards. The standards continue to be updated and added to, including new topic standards on tax (2019) and Waste (2020).

The new GRI standard sets out the principles for defining report content. It specifies the methods and practices for applying each principle. It also presents tests that can be used to assess the application of each principle. The reporting principles are fundamental to achieving transparency when reporting sustainability information. Material topics are very important factors of reporting which reflect the organisation's significant economic, environmental and social impacts; or that substantively influence the assessments and decisions of stakeholders.

As per GRI standards, the organisation should identify its stakeholders, and explain how it has responded to their reasonable expectations and interests. Stakeholders are defined as entities or individuals that can reasonably be expected to be significantly affected by the organisation's activities, products, and services; and whose actions can reasonably be expected to affect the ability of the organisation to successfully implement its strategies and achieve its objectives. This includes entities or individuals whose rights under law or international conventions provide them with legitimate claims vis-a?-vis the organisation. The reasonable expectations and interests of stakeholders are a key reference point for many decisions in the preparation of the report.

All commercial banks and non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs) in Bangladesh are required to prepare and publish annual sustainability report (ASR) following GRI or any other international guideline. To monitor the activities of banks and NBFIs, Sustainable Finance Department (SFD) has already been formed in Bangladesh Bank. Therefore, top managements of Bangladeshi commercial banks and thorough engagement of key stakeholders are intended to reinforce their effort to undertake more organised social accountability for sustainable development. A recent study shows that only 12.0 per cent banks reported sustainability separately in the annual report according to GRI reporting guideline, but 39.0 per cent banks though disclosed report of sustainability in the annual report separate it was found without following GRI reporting guidelines and 49.0 per cent banks did not disclose the separate sustainability report in annual report which signifies the increasing trend in every phase.

The GRI standards create a common language for organisations - large or small, private or public - to report on their sustainability impacts in a consistent and credible way. This enhances global comparability and enables organisations to be transparent and accountable. The Standards help organisations understand and disclose their impacts in a way that meet the needs of multiple stakeholders. In addition to reporting companies, the Standards are highly relevant to many other groups, including investors, policymakers, capital markets, and civil society. The standards are designed as an easy-to-use modular set, starting with the universal standards. The GRI standards help organisations' understand their outward impacts: on the economy, environment, and society. This increases accountability and enhances transparency on their contribution to achieving SDGs.

Md. Touhidul Alam Khan is Deputy Managing Director & Chief Risk Officer (CRO) of Prime Bank Limited. He is the first Certified Sustainability Reporting Assurer (CSRA) in Bangladesh and fellow member of Institute of Cost & Management Accountants of Bangladesh (ICMAB).

touhid1969@gmail.com

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