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A view from the Top: Interview with Eric Hespeneheide – Chairman of the newly created Global Sustainability Standards Board – Under the Auspices of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
March 03, 2016
By Kalee Brown
SAR: Can you describe the rationale behind creating the Global Sustainability Standards Board as and its mandate?
EH: The creation of the GSSB goes back two or three years, and came from a strategic review of GRI. More specifically, we looked at the state of sustainability reporting worldwide and how that was influencing organizations’ behaviour. We then decided that our guidelines needed to evolve into standards to further enhance the value of the sustainability reporting process.
SAR: Why standards as opposed to guidelines?
EH: Historically, GRI pursued a project-based approach. So, a project became G2 then the project became G3 and then G4. This approach, which I’m very supportive of, is great if things don’t move very quickly. The GSSB will be taking a modular approach and will be much more flexible and responsive to changes in the market place.
SAR: How will the Standards differ then from the G4 guidelines?
EH: What we’re striving to do is to take the concepts, the indicators, and all of the other elements in G4 and create a taxonomy for all of that content and deliver it in a series of interrelated standards. The presentation and the way you work with the Sustainability Reporting Standards (SRS’s), will also look different compared to using the G4 guidelines. One of our criteria will be to avoid, to the extent we can, any substantive content changes.
SAR: How do you think we can prevent standard confusion in a somewhat framework overloaded market?
EH: If you’re going to do a stand alone, comprehensive sustainability report there is only one framework for doing that which is used by thousands of organizations in over 90 countries worldwide - the GRI G4 Guidelines. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) has created a series of important indicators by sector with an investor focus, which is great, but it’s not a comprehensive reporting framework. Ultimately, we want to be the umbrella or the repository of these globally accepted standards for reporting on any given aspect of non-financial information; whether it is labour issues, community issues, environmental issues, or any others.
SAR: What does the GSSB hope to accomplish in its first year?
EH: What we’re striving to accomplish in year one is to make the transition from the G4 guidelines to this interrelated series of sustainability reporting standards. Following an extensive public comments period, we will issue that initial set of standards by the third calendar quarter in 2016. Concurrently, we are preparing to begin our sector standards work, which will draw on what SASB and others have done. However, our sector approach will be appropriate for an international audience and the sector standards will be developed inclusively with input from a very wide range of stakeholders, which has been a hallmark of GRI’s approach from its beginnings.
SAR: Will companies that are currently using G4 switch to the GSSB standards?
EH: Similar to what we did with the transition from G3 to G4, there will be a time horizon to make the transition. It will likely be fairly short because we’re doing this with the idea that we’re not fundamentally changing G4 content, other than how it’s being presented. So, we’re likely to have a fairly short transition period, perhaps 2017 or 2018.
SAR: ...and what could that mean for corporate sustainability reporting in general?
EH: We’re striving for two big outcomes. One is to have more reporting because we’re the largest referenced framework for sustainability reporting in the world with thousands of companies every year, an accumulated total of easily 100,000 or more. But it’s not just about more reporting; we’re also aiming to improve the quality of reporting. We’re designing these standards with the idea that some companies will want third party assurance on their reporting to potentially add even more credibility and reliability to the information it’s providing.