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What is sustainability reporting?

​A sustainability report is an organizational report that gives information about economic, environmental, social and governance performance.
For companies and organizations, sustainability – the capacity to endure, or be maintained – is based on performance in these four key areas.

An increasing number of companies and organizations want to make their operations sustainable. Establishing a sustainability reporting process helps them to set goals, measure performance, and manage change. A sustainability report is the key platform for communicating positive and negative sustainability impacts.

To produce a regular sustainability report, organizations set up a reporting cycle – a program of data collection, communication, and responses. This means that their sustainability performance is monitored on an ongoing basis. Data can be provided regularly to senior decision makers to shape company strategy and policy, and improve performance.

Sustainability reporting is therefore a vital step for managing change towards a sustainable global economy – one that combines long term profitability with social justice and environmental care.

More about reporting

​Sustainability reporting can be considered as synonymous with other terms for non-financial reporting; triple bottom line reporting, corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting, and more. It is also an intrinsic element of integrated reporting ; a recent development that combines the analysis of financial and non-financial performance.

Major providers of sustainability reporting guidance include:

• The Global Reporting Initiative (The GRI Sustainability Reporting Framework and Guidelines)
• Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises)
• The United Nations Global Compact (the Communication on Progress)
• International Organization for Standardization (ISO 26000, International Standard for social responsibility)

Uptake of sustainability reporting is increasing among organizations of all sizes: here are some statistics .

To learn more about how sustainability reporting is developing worldwide, visit the Report or Explain and Report Services pages.


Who should report?

​Sustainability reports are released by companies and organizations of all types, sizes and sectors, from every corner of the world.

Thousands of companies across all sectors have published reports that adopt some or all of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)’s Sustainability Reporting Framework and Guidelines. Public authorities and non-profits are also big reporters. GRI’s Reports List features all known GRI-based reports.

Who should start reporting? Everyone. GRI works to make sustainability reporting a mainstream activity. For this to happen, growth in reporting needs to be exponential. GRI’s guidance is designed to be used by all companies and organizations, and can play a major role in the future of all organizational reporting.



An effective sustainability reporting cycle should benefit all reporting organizations.

Internal benefits for companies and organizations can include:

• Increased understanding of risks and opportunities
• Emphasizing the link between financial and non-financial performance
• Influencing long term management strategy and policy, and business plans
• Streamlining processes, reducing costs and improving efficiency
• Benchmarking and assessing sustainability performance with respect to laws, norms, codes, performance standards, and voluntary initiatives
• Avoiding being implicated in publicized environmental, social and governance failures
• Comparing performance internally, and between organizations and sectors

External benefits of sustainability reporting can include:
• Mitigating - or reversing - negative environmental, social and governance impacts
• Improving reputation and brand loyalty
• Enabling external stakeholders to understand company’s true value, and tangible and intangible assets
• Demonstrating how the organization influences, and is influenced by, expectations about sustainable development

Many GRI publications examine companies’ experiences with sustainability reporting, including the benefits they have experienced.

GRI and sustainability reporting

Since 1999, GRI has provided a comprehensive Sustainability Reporting Framework that is widely used around the world. The cornerstone of the Framework is the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. As a result of the credibility, consistency and comparability it offers, GRI’s Framework has become a de facto standard in sustainability reporting.

Sustainability is a journey. Along the way, organizations need to set goals, measure performance, and integrate a sustainability strategy into their core planning. GRI’s Reporting Framework allows all organizations to take the first steps towards a sustainable global economy.

Some of the distinctive elements of GRI’s Framework – and the activity that creates it – include:

Multi-stakeholder input. GRI believes that multi-stakeholder engagement is the best way to produce universally applicable reporting guidance that meets the needs of report makers and users. All elements of the Reporting Framework are created and improved using a consensus-seeking approach, and considering the widest possible range of stakeholder interests. Stakeholder input to the Framework comes from business, civil society, labor, accounting, investors, academics, governments and sustainability reporting practitioners. 

A record of use and endorsement. Every year, an increasing number of reporters adopt GRI’s Guidelines. From 2006 to 2011, the yearly increase in uptake ranged from 22 to 58 percent. New audiences for sustainability information, like investors and regulators, are now calling for more and better performance data. Annual growth in the number of reporters is expected to continue, as GRI works for more reporters and better reporting. 

Governmental references and activities. GRI was referenced in the Plan of Implementation of the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. Use of GRI’s Framework was endorsed for all participating governments. Several governments consider GRI’s Framework to be an important part of their sustainable development policy, including Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany.

Independence. GRI’s governance structure helps to maintain its independence; geographically diverse stakeholder input increases the legitimacy of the Reporting Framework. GRI’s funding approach also ensures independence. GRI is a stichting – in Dutch, a non-profit foundation – with a business model that aims for a degree of self-sufficiency. Funding is secured from diverse sources; governments, companies, foundations, partner organizations and supporters.   

Shared development costs. The expense of developing GRI’s reporting guidance is shared among many users and contributors. For companies and organizations, this negates the cost of developing in-house or sector-based reporting frameworks.

Bridge building. GRI’s basis in multi-stakeholder engagement contributes to its ability to build bridges between different actors and sectors - like business, the public sector, labor unions and civil society - and to mediate.


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