The GRI launched the G4 reporting guidelines in style in Amsterdam in May. One Stone was there, and we can confirm that the keyword over the three day conference was ‘materiality’.
Shorter and smarter
Addressing the need for shorter, more relevant reports, the G4 Guidelines put materiality at the heart of disclosure. The G4 requires a robust materiality process to identify the Aspects (new GRI speak for ‘issues’) material to the company and its stakeholders. Those that are most material must be reported on. But crucially and radically, those Aspects deemed less material do not require disclosure under G4.
Be honest: how did you do it?
The quid pro quo for waving goodbye to huge reports is that all companies must be much more transparent about their materiality decision making process. In a major change since G3, any organisation wishing to report ‘in accordance’ with G4 must disclose the way they identify, validate and prioritise their material Aspects.
What are Aspects?
GRI provides a list of Aspects (issues) in established categories (Economic, Environmental and so on). There are 47 Aspects in total and many are familiar, but some, for instance those to do with suppliers, now pop up under several categories.
Core v Comprehensive
Having identified their material Aspects, organisations can be ‘in accordance’ with G4 by choosing either Core or Comprehensive reporting. Core reporting is a great entry point for SMEs, allowing them to report on only one indicator per material Aspect identified, whereas Comprehensive reporters must disclose information relevant to all the indicators relating to each of their material Aspects. Thankfully, the old A-C system that encouraged organisations to report rafts of superfluous data has gone.
Boundaries and the value chain
Recognising that an organisation’s biggest impacts are often in the value chain, they are required to identify where impacts occur for each material Aspect by describing whether their significance is internal to the organisational boundary or external (eg suppliers or other stakeholders), or both.
Where’s the hitch?
Clearly the quality of the report hinges on the robustness of the materiality process, and since this is primitive in many organisations, major questions remain about whether reports will really represent the organisation’s impacts and its sustainability context. It will be up to the organisations themselves, assurance providers and other stakeholders to scrutinise, critique and improve the materiality process. Fertile territory for rating agencies perhaps?