Sense and Sustainability: GRI, SDGs and Everything-in-Between

Here’s the second article in our introductory series on sustainability and the corporate world. In the first article we provided a comprehensive definition of sustainability and what it means today.

On the 1st of January 2016, the United Nations unveiled a new set of global goals, titled the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the ultimate aim of eradicating poverty, combating inequalities and halting climate change. What sets these goals apart from their predecessor of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are that the SDGs directly call upon corporates to take part in the manifesto, and call for greater accountability from businesses, think-tanks and leaders. Before delving into the SDGs, let’s also comprehend the implications of the GRI guidelines on corporates around the world.

The GRI Guidelines
The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), an independent organisation headquartered in Amsterdam, the Netherlands; publishes a set of guidelines on sustainability reporting that are highly recognised world-wide by all manner of corporates and individuals. The GRI responded to the UN’s focus on the SDGs by releasing the SDG Compass; a comprehensive document detailing how corporates can best integrate the SDGs into their operations, and showcase their commitment to upholding these goals, within the context of sustainability reporting.

Research has shown that the overall response to these new developments have been increasingly positive. A vast majority of the world’s largest corporates now report on sustainability. An analysis of 163 annual reports from the largest corporates world-wide in 2016 found that roughly a third of them have reported on the SDGs.

The Five-Pronged Approach: Steps One to Two
The first step for corporates, according to the SDG Compass is to understand the SDGs. Comprehending the intricacies of the goals helps businesses build up a solid framework on which they can develop their sustainability agenda. Once this has been done, it is time to move on to step two.

The next step consists of priorities. As the GRI notes, not all SDGs will be of material importance to an organisation. For example, a finance company will not usually deal with hazardous materials or release toxic waste products, and hence their environmental impacts are minimal; compared to an organisation in the agri-business or petro-chemical sector. By developing a scale on which the relative importance of each SDG is noted, a corporate can maximise their positive impacts in the areas where they can actually make changes. For example, a finance company can help reduce inequalities by offering financial solutions geared towards lower-income households. The company can equally be instrumental in reducing gender inequality by encouraging more women to start their own micro-businesses, or by enticing them to join the workforce.

The Five-Pronged Approach: Steps Three to Four

Finally, in step three, an organisation; once having identified the SDGs they will focus on, should establish clear goals towards meeting these targets. The acronym of SMART goals should prove helpful: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based. This would involve the devising of key performance indicators (KPIs), as well as gauging base-lines for measurement. For example, a company could define their commitment to reducing carbon emissions by mandating a cap on emissions.

The fourth step is integration. A company cannot separate its external commitments towards the SDGs from their commitments towards customers, employees, partners and other stakeholders. Sustainability is all-encompassing and requires holistic attitudes if it is to succeed. Thus, in this step, a corporate would embed its sustainability goals into the very ethos of its activities and would also engage in mutually-beneficial partnerships with other organisations to further these goals.

The Final Step
That all-important final step, and the icing on the cake, is effective and targeted communications. Now that a company has identified, prioritised, set its goals and is in the process of achieving them, it is time to notify all interested stakeholders of the progress being made.

As the GRI notes, over 180 national sustainability-related policies and initiatives exist worldwide, and many of these are now compulsory guidelines that organisations must follow. From the bewildering array of reporting options on offer, it is imperative that an organisation makes sound decisions in selecting the form, medium and frequency with which they can communicate effectively with their stakeholders.

Now that we have provided you with a comprehensive overview into the Sustainable Development Goals, the Global Reporting Initiative and ancillary matters, it is time to move on to the next three articles in this series. In the article to come, we will be exploring some important case-studies of companies that have and have not shown their commitment to the sustainability agenda. The fourth article in the series will address how individuals, particularly corporate communications professionals, can better integrate the tenets of sustainability into their everyday lives. The series will conclude with a detailed analysis of the future of sustainable solutions in the corporate world.

© Copyright June 2017
The ideas discussed here may be used, adapted or built upon for academic or commercial purposes provided due credit is given to Smart Media The Annual Report Company as the originator of this work.

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