by Karen Pong
07 Jun 2017

In Hong Kong and Singapore last month, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), in collaboration with CSR Asia, hosted two roundtable discussions with Mr Tim Mohin, the Chief Executive of the GRI. The discussions aimed to engage local companies and investors and generated conversation around the value and challenges of corporate sustainability reporting in an evolving landscape in Asia-Pacific.

Warmly welcomed by audiences in Asia, Tim said he was impressed by the growth of sustainability reporting in Asia in recent years and believed that with many companies still at the beginning of their reporting journey, the region has a chance to do things differently and perhaps even jump ahead of the US and Europe. He added that while reporting might primarily be a window allowing outsiders to see in and understand the performance and progress of companies, it is also a mirror for companies to reflect on where they are and how to improve.

With the new GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (GRI Standards) launched last year and a steady uptake in environmental, social and governance reporting guidelines released by stock exchanges in the region, the audience shared concerns about confusing guidance as well as problems with comparability of having to adhere to sometimes conflicting guidelines. Tim responded that GRI has also identified this as a key area for improvement and is working with different regulatory bodies to seek better alignment and harmonization of standards so that there can be a simplified approach to reporting.

A number of exciting initiatives and GRI services that address evolving needs as the landscape of reporting matures over the years were also discussed. Earlier this year, GRI and the United Nations Global Compact established a collaborative initiative, ‘Reporting on the SDGs’ – an Action Platform to accelerate corporate reporting on the Global Goals. This initiative aims to help companies better incorporate the SDGs into their business operations, and thereby reports, by providing a methodology to help companies go beyond merely mapping their activities against the goals, and to tangibly enable them to make positive contributions to the sustainable development agenda. A list of expected business disclosures, including indicators and gap analysis will be released at the SDG Business Forum in connection with the UN High Level Political Forum on 18 July 2017 and a publication on leadership and best practice for business on SDGs reporting will be developed and presented at the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit, convened during the UN General Assembly in September 2017.

The audience in Hong Kong also shared keen interest in GRI’s upcoming benchmarking service for reporting companies. During the roundtable discussions, Tim told audiences that GRI is in the final stages of developing a customised benchmarking service to help companies understand what their regional and international peers and competitors are doing, measuring and aiming to achieve. A pilot version of this benchmarking service will be launched soon. GRI is also developing and piloting a new approach for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) on how to use the GRI Standards in a way that will facilitate the reporting process and make it more user friendly for SME’s. This new approach will be developed as an online reporting tool and will make reporting using the new GRI Standards easier and more applicable to smaller companies, with fewer available resources to devote to the reporting process. GRI is currently piloting this in selected countries but plans to make it available to all in the future.

When asked about what ‘disruptive’ trends he expects to see in sustainability reporting, Tim drew on his experience from overseeing supply chain sustainability at Apple, and shared that investors were usually most excited about new technologies or workflows that would enhance efficiency and induce cost-saving. He also commented that more readers will want to see the focus of reporting shift towards future forecasts of results instead of focusing on the past, which is the traditional tone of a sustainability report.

On the topic of technology and reporting advancements, the discussion circled around the practice of web-based ‘real-time reports.’ Tim shared that previous challenges faced by stakeholders who have tried real-time reporting a few years ago might be resolved by continuous improvements in advanced and customizable data processing technology. However, reporters may still need to consider the required frequency and upkeep of real-time reports and the correlated operational practices before making the tech-savvy move.

The roundtables concluded with a positive outlook towards the future growth of sustainability reporting in Asia, and GRI’s continued leading role in making the business case for the four C’s (consistent, concise, comparable and coherent) of sustainability reports.

About GRI
GRI is an international independent organization that has pioneered corporate sustainability reporting since 1997. GRI helps businesses, governments and other organizations understand and communicate the impact of business on critical sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, corruption and many others. With thousands of reporters in over 90 countries, GRI provides the world’s most trusted and widely used standards on sustainability reporting, enabling organizations and their stakeholders to make better decisions based on information that matters. Currently, 45 countries and regions reference GRI in their policies. GRI is built upon a unique multi-stakeholder principle, which ensures the participation and expertise of diverse stakeholders in the development of its standards. GRI’s mission is to empower decision-makers everywhere, through its standards and multi-stakeholder network, to take action towards a more sustainable economy and world.

Image credits: Hang Lung Properties Limited