The Next Era of Corporate Disclosure: Digital, Responsible, Interactive says the future will involve new formats with organizations moving from annual reports to sustainability data exchange, while focusing on major challenges like climate change.
GRI’s chief advisor on innovation in reporting Nelmara Arbex told Environmental Leader that these three features — digital, responsible and interactive — will define the future of sustainability reporting.
“Digital: they will be accessible to the information’ users when they need it, in the format they need it, including supply chain impacts,” Arbex says. “Finding correlations and checking coherence will become easier for all.
“Responsible: they will reveal the real responsibility and commitment of an organization and its partners to tackle real critical issues, which society is trying to solve,” she continues.
“Interactive: they will be the basis of well-informed interactions between the company, its supply chain and all its stakeholders. Organizations will have to change its structure to interact deeply with these stakeholders, to react fast and coherently.”
In fact, stakeholders will have a new role, too, GRI says, because of their almost real-time interaction with companies.
So what will this new type of reporting look like? Let’s use waste management as an example.
Arbex says this topic will be disclosed because it’s a critical, societal issue and companies have to show their commitment to tackling it. “Then I believe we will be talking about disclosures/indicators that tell in real time which types of waste have been created by the company and it’s supply chain, and where,” Arbex says. This would also include information about what happened to this waste — was it recycled? Composted? Landfilled? — and what other organizations can confirm this information, “all in 3D projection, of course.”
The Next Era of Corporate Disclosure is the culmination of the first year of GRI’s Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project, aimed at promoting an international discussion about the future of sustainability reporting and disclosures.
“GRI convened the Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project to promote a global conversation on how to unlock the full value of sustainability performance data for decision makers in the next decade,” explains GRI chief executive Michael Meehan. “Together with business executives and civil society leaders from diverse fields, we explored which type of information will be needed to tackle the most critical challenges and how data technology should be used to enable this journey.”
Arbex says The Next Era of Corporate Disclosure lays out the first steps companies must take to “liberate sustainability data from reports so that it can be used to inform decisions across businesses and entire economies.” She says initial discussions about this topic suggest businesses should publish sustainability information in “easy to find” digital formats. PDFs are not the best way to do this.
The Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project’s next phase will delve deeper into how companies can accomplish this. But for starters, Arbex outlines five things companies should do now to prepare for this next phase of corporate disclosure.
- Do a careful materiality analysis not only considering the past activities but future plans, considering as much as possible the impacts of the supply chain, or post-consumption issues.
- Publish the information in a clear way. Make it direct and to the point, in easy to find digital formats. Include supply chain information.
- Ask external reliable organizations to check the disclosures published.
- Do not mislead those using your report — such as shareholders and other decision makers — with information that is not critical to tackle real issues.
- Prepare the disclosure to be shared, analyzed and discussed by many. And this, Arbex says, “will change the way you make decisions and structure your business.”
GRI says it is already exploring these insights and putting them into practice with its Corporate Leadership Group on Reporting 2025, a group of companies that span construction, food and beverage, and telecommunications industries, among others. As real-time date becomes increasingly important in businesses decisions and sustainability disclosures, expect more companies to follow suit.
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