This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), an independent body that has pioneered sustainability reporting from a niche practice to one now adopted by organizations around the world. Eight months into his new role, I spoke to the Chief Executive of GRI, Tim Mohin, about the growth of sustainability reporting, the importance of transparency, competition between reporting methods and his hopes for his own legacy.

“I was at a Ceres conference many years ago”, began Tim Mohin, the recently appointed Chief Executive of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), as we sat down to discuss the organization that he now leads, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary. “At their annual meeting, Ceres recognizes the very best corporate sustainability reports. In accepting the award, one of the representatives of the winning company asked the crowd just how many people had read their report. No one put their hand up. He then asked, how many people had read their own company reports. Almost all hands went up. And it was clear to me then that few will invest the time to read a CSR report unless it has a direct impact on them. In other words, reporting can be more of a mirror than a window and perhaps it is through self-reflection that we see the most change.”

Mohin has had an extensive career in corporate sustainability, including as Director of Sustainable Development at Intel Corporation and, most recently, as Senior Director of Corporate Responsibility for AMD. He is also the founder of Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Program, encompassing labor, environment, health and safety in their massive supply chain. Before his corporate life, he worked for ten years in the US government. Whilst at the Environmental Protection Agency, he led the development of the toxics provisions of the Clean Air Act Amendments, and worked as senior legislative staff for the Chairman of Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Mohin brought all of this real-world experience when he joined GRI as Chief Executive in January of this year.

Founded in 1997, the Global Reporting Initiative helps businesses, governments, and a wide range of organizations to understand and communicate their impacts on issues such as climate change, human rights, and corruption. In October 2016, GRI launched the newest version of its reporting framework, the GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (GRI Standards), the first global standards for sustainability reporting. The GRI Standards enable organizations to publicly report on their economic, environmental and social impacts. The introduction of the GRI Standards marked an important step in the evolution of sustainability reporting, as Mohin explains.


“We have come so far in the past decade or so in the development and modernization of sustainability reporting, from the accessibility of reporting to its greater efficiency and integration into strategic decision-making. I have seen the huge benefits and positive changes that it can facilitate, whether it be improving working conditions for employees or reducing environmental impacts. But it’s a constant process of evolution. We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in how we all access and consume information. In the age of Google, all the information we need is often just a click away, and people now expect and demand content and data in an instant. It is against this backdrop that sustainability reporting still needs to modernize, and to become more timely and relevant to all stakeholders.”

According to Mohin, there are four ‘C’s that are integral to his mission at the GRI, and to sustainability reporting in general. “Concise, Consistent, Comparable and Current. These are the words that I think are so important when we’re talking about the evolution of sustainability reporting,” Mohin explains. “And the last word, current, is key. Sustainability reporting has traditionally been an annual exercise for corporations and other organizations, but in order to make it truly relevant and useful for decision makers, whether they are executives, investors or consumers, we need to think about how to make it more current or even forward-looking.”

Could part of the challenge in achieving the four C’s, I ask him, be that there is an element of fragmentation in the reporting world, with too many sustainability organizations and frameworks asking for the same thing and therefore blurring the reporting landscape? “There is a narrative that has been running for a while now,” Mohin explains, “that portrays sustainability reporting organizations as in conflict with each other. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. I believe there is an increasing amount of harmonization in this space, whether it be GRI, or the UN Global Compact, SASB or the IIRC. Not only do we have longstanding partnerships with those organizations and others, but we are in fact all just after the same thing, which is sustainable development.”

Originally posted at Forbes