Looking inwards to influence outwards: GRI’s own reporting journey

5 min readJul 25, 2023

By Ásthildur Hjaltadóttir, Chief Sustainability Officer, GRI

For more than 25 years, GRI has been guiding organizations in the best practice for how to communicate their impacts, responding to the needs of stakeholders. But have you ever considered how, as a relatively small organization with a global relevance and reach, GRI responds to the challenges of producing its own a sustainability report?

Since 2008, we have published an annual report, following the GRI Guidelines in the beginning, and later the GRI Standards. And for our 2022 report, published in June, for the first time we reported using the 2021 updated Universal Standards — the standards that provide the foundation for all GRI reports.

In effect since January of this year, under the new version of the Universal Standards, organizations need to report ‘in accordance’ with the Standards, which has replaced the former ‘core’ or ‘comprehensive’ options. For us, like any other reporter that used the ‘core’ option in the past, this required a new approach.

To manage our transition, late last year we established a dedicated Sustainability Reporting Team with cross-departmental representation. Once this seven-member group was created, we started by identifying the main tasks and producing a project plan:

Developing our reporting process

GRI 2: General Disclosures 2021 contains disclosures that are relevant to all organizations, regardless of size or sector and are therefore mandatory for ‘in accordance’ reports. This meant we undertook a thorough gap-analysis to identify information previously not reported.

In parallel, the team started collecting contact information for our stakeholder engagement outreach. As a global organization, we have stakeholders across multiple countries and regions and our colleagues around the world contributed to the development of a database that now consists of around 4,000 individuals.

We also identified what we considered to be the material topics for GRI to report on — i.e., our most significant impacts on the economy, environment, and people. After consulting with GRI’s Management Board, these topics were shared with stakeholders in the form of a survey. Once responses were in and analyzed, the outcome led to our identified material topics for 2022:

· GRI Standards development

· Standardized impact reporting

· Driving reporting uptake

· Increasing reporting robustness

· Impacts on people

· Economic impacts

The reporting team started engaging the various ‘data owners’ throughout the organization to gather the information. We set a timeline covering content development, copy writing, design, and the content index creation — all with the intent of having a final report ready for publication by the end of June. Below I share some practical insights from our reporting experience.

Creating a dedicated team

Having a project team responsible for the report is definitely something I would recommend, and was crucial for us in successfully publishing the report on time. By dividing tasks among the team, including appointing a coordinator role, all aspects could be run in parallel. What also helped was the fact that we ensured team members spanned the various departments and could therefore easily identify the data-owners and information sources. For the 2023 report, we intend to build on the reporting team by finding further ways to integrate more colleagues and utilize the insights and expertise they can bring.

Mind the gap

When transitioning from the 2016 Universal Standards to the 2021 version, a gap-analysis is absolutely crucial. However, this process may turn out to be more complicated and time-consuming than first anticipated. The main reason for us was the extensive disclosures required on governance related issues. Not all of disclosures are relevant to a not-for-profit organization like GRI yet they are rightly mandatory and still needed consideration.

An additional factor for us, as a foundation incorporated in the Netherlands, was due to recent change in Dutch legislation that meant GRI’s governance structure was changed to a two-tier board structure. This required all previous governance-related disclosures to be re-evaluated. The time investment was well spent and will mean GRI is in a good place to report on these issues in the future. Keeping all of this in mind, my recommendation would be to commit sufficient resources to the gap-analysis stage. It’s also worth taking time to consider your own legal and geographic context, and what this may mean for your report.

There’s always room for more engagement

The team had some great ideas when it came to stakeholder engagement, and all of these were explored. This included expanded interaction through in-depth interviews and focus groups. Unfortunately due to time constraints, not all options were able to be implemented for the 2022 report. We are, however, determined to increase our engagement for the 2023 report, with the opportunity to discuss the topics identified as material for the 2022 report and explore whether our stakeholders identify other relevant impacts.

The materiality challenge

It may sound surprising, but for the majority of our identified material topics, there is no GRI Topic Standard available. For instance, ‘GRI Standards development’ and ‘driving reporting uptake’ do not readily apply themselves to the range of GRI Standards. This might well be the case for other non-profit organizations similar to us — and makes the case for a future GRI Standard for the non-profit sector.

However, this situation is never a reason not to report on a material topic. For topics that cannot be linked to a specific Standard, the reporter should use Disclosure 3–3 from GRI 3: Material Topics 2021. This way you can explain what the impacts are — whether they are actual or potential, negative or positive — and how they are being managed.

Some top tips

To conclude, I want to summarize a few key learnings from our reporting experience:

1. Good planning with a clear division of work is essential. Once tasks have been identified, involve relevant colleagues and let them know what you need from them and when. This helps to ensure ownership and avoid delays.

2. Do not underestimate the time for review and sign-off. There is typically limited flexibility to achieve the publication deadline, so build in sufficient time through the planning process.

3. Help is at hand if you need it! The Transitioning to the GRI Standards 2021 update course is provided via the GRI Academy, while we also have a Content Index Service available.

4. Remember it’s not just about the final report — the reporting process is an opportunity to learn and improve. So, once the report is out, share and assign actions with colleagues. You will need their input in future, and it’s never too early to start planning for your next report!

We would love to know what you think of the GRI 2022 sustainability report. Please get in touch with your feedback.




GRI is the independent international organization that helps businesses and other organizations communicate and understand their sustainability impacts.