Forget the GRI Standards and get back to basics

Rarely have I experienced such a wake-up call as I did when taking part in a recent GRI certification training event in London. I was expecting a session focusing on scrutinising the details of the different GRI Standards. However, the course ended up being a perfect reminder of what really matters in the jungle of various sustainability reporting frameworks that tend to boggle the mind and make you lose your sense of direction. After returning home, sustainability reporting has never felt this clear.

Keeping up with reporting frameworks

After all, the purpose of a sustainability report is to indicate a company’s understanding of the sustainability context they are working in and the risks and opportunities it entails. By introducing your stakeholders to the process and figuring out the company’s most material topics, you can’t go wrong.

However, we are currently living in a situation where different reporting laws, regulations and frameworks keep piling up. Companies are facing reporting fatigue and feeling confused about which ones to choose for their reporting.

Answers from the GRI Foundations

When starting work on the GRI Standards you are usually hit by the shock of discovering the multitude of different standards and their subsections. I believe it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the most common first thought is “Hell no!”

Sure, the standards are quite demanding. But any company should be able to reach the Core level. Just go through your management processes and reasons behind your choices (and remember to actually write them down in your report and index).

But first and foremost, we must not forget the Foundations -section. It lays out the main principles you should work within. We need to engage with our stakeholders, show our understanding of the larger sustainability context and assess our most material topics. If you work with these with accuracy, balance, clarity, comparability, reliability and in a timely manner – you are good to go.

Although complying with these principles may not be easy, it’s extremely rewarding, leading to increased trust among stakeholders, a strengthened strategic direction and an improved comprehension of the company and its impact.

Lose the jargon and focus on the big stuff

Sustainability experts tend to easily get tangled up in (and even become fond of) their sustainability jargon. Nobody really cares about ESG, SDGs, <IR> or GRI unless they are explained.

In the end, these terms encapsulate the future of our planet. Will we drown in plastic and will there still be pollinating bees in 2040? These are the questions that should be answered in sustainability reports.

Reporters share the responsibility of making reporting better known

Communicators and sustainability experts hold the keys that could open doors to a wider audience, since current sustainability reports don’t really manage to catch the eye of many readers. All reporters should feel the burden of making reporting as smooth, clear and transparent as possible. Reports ought to be understandable to everyone from a school kid to a field expert. We might not be there yet, but as reporting is becoming increasingly popular, we could soon be in a situation where the best reports are the clearest ones.

Also, bear in mind that a report isn´t an annual sprint but a holy grail from which you can reread and pick up information throughout the year. So, keep on making those intriguing infographics, captivating tables and colourful process charts and share them in different channels.

Main takeaways

There are many frameworks and things to say in a sustainability report. Just keep these questions on the GRI Foundations in mind and you are on the way to understandable reporting:

  1. Do we understand our company’s impact in the big picture and are we able to show it?
  2. Are we answering the right questions?
  3. Does this report build trust among our stakeholders? Are we being honest?
  4. Would a school kid understand what we are trying to say?
  5. Are we offering enough information for experts?

Find your answers, challenge yourself and get ready to make a first-class sustainability report that promotes change.


Tuuli works as an Sustainability Advisor at Miltton and gets giddy when she hears the words “sustainability” and “framework”.

For more information, please contact:

Tuuli Nummelin
Sustainability Advisor
+358 44 255 0830