The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), an international sustainability reporting institution, was formally inaugurated at a luncheon attended by over 200 guests at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on 4 April 2002. The GRI was
convened in 1997 by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The UN event marked the formal launch of GRI as a permanent, independent global institution. Attendees at the event included government, corporate, labour, NGO and investment leaders from around the world.
The GRI was established to develop, promote, and disseminate a generally accepted framework for sustainability reporting voluntary reporting on the economic, environmental, and social performance of corporations and other organisations. Its mandate as an international standards body is to make sustainability reporting as routine as financial reporting while achieving the highest standards of consistency and rigour.
In opening remarks, UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette stated, "By offering guidelines that enable companies to report on their work to improve environmental and social conditions, the GRI has a unique contribution to make in fostering corporate transparency and accountability far beyond financial matters.
"Let me praise the Global Reporting Initiative for successfully bringing together actors from all sectors of society in a coalition for change," said Frechette. "Yours is a wonderful example of what a partnership can achieve in the work for greater sustainability, respect for human rights and labour standards."
The GRI involves the active participation of thousands of representatives from business, accountancy, investment, environmental, human rights, and labour organisations worldwide in designing a common framework called the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. More than 110 pioneering companies from around the world have already undertaken sustainability reporting using the GRI Guidelines — including BASF, British Telecom, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Canon, Co-operative Bank, Danone, Electrolux, Ford, GM, Interface, KLM, NEC, Nike, Novo Group, Nokia, Shell, and South African Breweries.
"The GRI Guidelines have encouraged us to take a more comprehensive look at our performance according to the triple bottom line of economic, environmental, and social responsibility," said Harry Kraemer Jr., CEO of Baxter International, who spoke at the event. "Now through our sustainability report we are able to bring
these together to show the synergies and interrelationships in defining our success and responding to diverse stakeholder interests."
The 4 April inaugural event included the first public appearance of GRI’s new Board of Directors, which includes representatives from every continent and numerous stakeholder constituencies. The event also included the formal announcement of the results of GRI’s site selection process for its permanent Secretariat headquarters, which will be opened later this year in Amsterdam. The GRI plans on opening regional offices in the US, Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
Finally, the GRI Charter Group — leading organisations that publicly endorse the GRI mission and are committed to ensuring GRI’s long-term success through strategic, financial, and operational support — was introduced. These include major corporations such as Baxter, Ford, Nike and Shell, advocacy groups such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace International, and global accounting organisations.
In addition to Ms. Frechette and Mr. Kraemer, other speakers at the event included Mr. Timothy Wirth, President, United Nations Foundation, Dr. Nyameko Barney Pityana, Vice-Chancellor, University of South Africa, Ms. Linda Chavez-Thompson, Executive Vice-President, AFL-CIO, Mr. Tsuguoki Fujinuma, President, International Federation of Accountants, Mr. Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director, Oxfam
International, Ms. Anna Diamantopoulou, European Union Commissioner
for Employment and Social Affairs, and Robert Kinloch Massie, CERES
Executive Director and GRI Board Member.
"Let us not underestimate the significance of the task or the opportunity," said Mr. Massie. "The GRI represents only one piece of what we must do to find our way to a healthy and sustainable future, but it is a necessary piece. Without it, we will never bring all the forms of capital — natural, human, and financial — into healthy alignment."
Allen White, acting Chief Executive, added, "The GRI represents a turning point in expanding corporate disclosure with critical information that complements financial statements. We believe this is a major step toward strengthening capital markets and enriching information flows to investors, advocacy groups, labour and other interested parties."
GRI will release a new version of the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines in July 2000 after two years of consultations with advocacy, labour and governmental organisations, and testing by dozens of corporations.