Unlocking the sustainability potential of the ASEAN region

By Michele Lemmens, Regional Head of the GRI ASEAN Hub

On 3 September 2019, just over one year ago, GRI launched in an eighth global location. Adding to a global network that already spanned from Brazil and Colombia to China, from the Netherlands to South Africa, from India to the USA, the new regional hub extends the influence of GRI to ASEAN– based in the financial hub of Singapore.

The opening of the ASEAN hub would not have been possible without the backing of a consortium of Singapore-based sustainability champions. This group includes the Singapore Stock Exchange, CDL and CapitaLand (real estate and development), DBS (banking), Sembcorp and Keppel (energy and utility), StarHub (communications), consulting firms Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), PwC, KPMG and EY, as well as thought leadership organizations Stewardship Asia and Global Compact Network Singapore.

During the first year, the activities of the GRI ASEAN Hub have been based on delivering against three priorities:

It has been a challenging yet successful 12 months for myself and Julie Rezler in Singapore. From participating in industry and governmental policy consultations through to outreach and engagement to introduce companies to the value of sustainability reporting for the very first time.

Providing guidance and support to ASEAN organizations as they progress on their sustainability journey, so they can better communicate and improve sustainability performance, is and always will be a key focus for the hub. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has, of course, altered our ways of working, yet we have adapted and continue to fulfil this role.

Our in-person events in late 2019 in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia already seem long ago. Since then, we have embraced virtual engagements that have actually grown our reach throughout the region.

We’ve held webinars to support reporters — with a reporting landscape and the Standards session event in March and an introduction to the GRI Waste Standard in May, in partnership with Sempcorp and CDL. These two events reached almost 500 people from throughout ASEAN, including Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.

An even broader geographic spread was achieved in our peer-to-peer Bright Lights of ASEAN learning webinars. These interactive sessions took place in June (with DBS of Singapore and CP Limited, Thailand) and July (with Sarawak Energy in Malaysia and SM Investments of the Philippines). The 330 participants hailed from over 18 countries, from ASEAN and further afield.

The GRI Standards are as applicable to companies in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok or Jakarta as they are to those based in Paris, Brasilia or Nairobi. This global and multi-sector relevance is one the great strengths of the comparable and best practice reporting GRI enables. And that’s why the development of the Standards seek to incorporate global viewpoints.

I’m pleased that our hub has been able to increase the engagement of ASEAN organizations in the ongoing work to renew and update the GRI Standards. We have Singapore-based representatives appointed to the working group developing a first GRI Sector Standard for Agriculture and Fishing. We were also able to facilitate regional input into the significant review underway to the Universal Standards, by hosting three webinars last month in support of the public comment period.

We have been encouraged by the continuing commitment to sustainability seen in many ASEAN organisations during these challenging times, as well as the positive attention of investor communities. While we will continue to focus on the key areas of advocacy and building capability for reporting, we will also be driving further reach to early reporters across the region.

Before the end of 2020, we plan to run sustainability reporting workshops, hold roundtables on waste as well as occupational healthy and safety, alongside continued outreach to new and existing reporters as they prepare for 2020 sustainability reporting process. We encourage regional organizations to keep an eye out for these sessions. In 2021, we hope to be able to plan a return to face-to-face sessions.

In closing, I again want to share our thanks to the Consortium members, as well as all reporters — new and emerging — in ASEAN markets. Your ongoing commitment to GRI inspires us to do even more in the pursuit of more sustainable outcomes. We look forward to collaborating with all partners in the region, to further progress and deepen corporate transparency in the years to come.

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

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