We recently interviewed Tim Mohin, chief executive of GRI, and Jean Rogers, chair of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), about the relationship between the organizations’ standards and how they can be used in combination.
Dunstan Allison-Hope: You both recently stated that “rather than being in competition, GRI and SASB are designed to fulfill different purposes for different audiences. For companies, it’s about choosing the right tool for the job.” Can you share what you mean by this?
Tim Mohin: The GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (GRI Standards) and the SASB Sustainability Accounting Standards are designed for different, but complementary, purposes. Stated simply, GRI looks at the company’s impacts on the world and the SASB looks at the world’s impacts on the company.
We believe both frameworks can work together to give companies and their stakeholders a comprehensive view of how businesses can create shareholder value, but, importantly, also help create the conditions for sustainable development. The GRI framework focuses on a company’s impacts on the broader economy, environment, and society to determine its material issues.
Jean Rogers: The key difference between the approach we take at the SASB and what GRI does stems from the specific audiences we’re trying to serve. At the SASB, that audience is financially motivated mainstream investors who are seeking access to standardized performance information on the small handful of sustainability factors that are reasonably likely to materially affect the financial condition or operating performance of their portfolio companies. The SASB serves the unique needs of the investment community, but this is not mutually exclusive with the type of reporting that GRI facilitates for a broader set of stakeholders. Rather, we like to say they are complementary and “mutually supportive.”
Companies now realize that they have a broad set of stakeholders and they ignore them at their own risk. This is, in large part, thanks to GRI’s important work of bringing a wide array of stakeholders and their interests to the attention of corporate actors over the past two decades.
Allison-Hope: The metrics in the GRI Standards are different than the metrics in the SASB Standards. Do you envision more alignment and harmonization over time on specific metrics? How can that be achieved?
Rogers: Wherever possible, the SASB Standards include quantitative, industry-specific performance metrics that are commonly used to describe performance on key sustainability issues, and we leverage the longstanding work of many organizations—including GRI—to achieve this. The SASB takes this approach, in part, to deliver the most cost-effective solution possible for companies. Companies are already likely measuring many metrics in the SASB Standards because we reference indicators from more than 200 entities, including GRI, CDP, the EPA, OSHA, and the EEOC and IPIECA. The SASB and GRI have also committed to mapping our metrics to one another, which is a project we aim to complete in 2018, so increasing alignment is certainly on the horizon.
Mohin: In many cases, our standards are identical. In others, the SASB has defined disclosures that represent issues that are narrowly defined for certain industries. There is alignment work to be done in the third category where the two frameworks have similar disclosures with different characteristics. For this group, we are working together on a technical level with an aim to create better alignment.
Allison-Hope: Reporting on sustainability issues is still a fairly young discipline, and we are learning all the time about how to do it better. What is your message for companies trying to use both the GRI Standards and the SASB Standards at the same time today?
Mohin: There is already very broad uptake of the GRI reporting framework. Given this level of adoption, it’s likely that many of the companies that are reviewing the SASB disclosures already use GRI. Working together, GRI and SASB have identified a few companies that are utilizing both approaches. We aim to highlight these case studies to show other reporters how the standards can co-exist.
Rogers: Neither GRI nor SASB are tick boxes—but they are both helpful in mastering sustainability. GRI helps you understand your various stakeholders—their interests and how you affect them. This makes you strong. SASB helps you identify and manage financially material issues that affect your business and therefore your investors. This makes you powerful. It’s good to be strong and powerful.
Allison-Hope: What are the best ways for BSR member companies to provide input into the development of the GRI Standards and SASB Standards?
Rogers: Our doors are always open to BSR member companies, and we would love to hear from them. Getting involved requires only that you reach out and provide feedback. Our goal is to ensure that the standards reflect the needs and expertise of all users—specifically corporate issuers and investors—but we can only do so if they’re forthcoming with their insights and experiences.
We have a 90-day public comment period open through December 31, which is a great opportunity to provide input on proposed changes to the provisional standards prior to codification. Corporate professionals at BSR member companies can also consider joining the SASB Alliance to develop, share, and explore best practices in integrating material sustainability information into existing processes.
Mohin: As a multistakeholder organization, collaboration has always been at the heart of our work at GRI. We encourage BSR members and other interested parties to play an active role in our standard-setting process. Organizations of all types can join the GRI GOLD Community to become more deeply involved in all the work we do.
There are several ways for individuals to get involved in GRI’s Standards: Stakeholders can apply to become a part of GRI’s standard-setting process; they can submit comments during the consultation period; or at a minimum, anyone can listen live or to a recording of the Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB). GSSB is a fully independent body that promulgates the GRI Standards.
GRI released its full set of Standards in 2016. More recently, we have conducted a review of two standards on water and occupational safety. If all goes according to plan, we will release those updated standards in the second quarter of 2018. Over the next year, we plan to review a number of other standards.
Allison-Hope: Thank you, Jean and Tim. We are delighted by efforts toward increased standardization, alignment, and harmonization, and we look forward to working with BSR member companies using the GRI and the SASB standards in combination. We will be sure to share lessons learned along the way.