Last week I wrote my first sustainability report based on the GRI G4 guidelines. This was for a Saudi business conglomerate and with this report which applied G4 at core level, they became the first Saudi company to issue a GRI checked G4 report. Despite the hugely steep learning curve and the effort it took to tear myself away from the G3 thinking, the report was a colossal source of pride and gratification for me and for everyone who worked on it. Yes, there were times I just wanted to give up and move back to the familiar zone that is G3 and that I have used for almost 10+ reports. But I am very glad that I stuck around and saw the report come to fruition.
There are certain lessons from this process that I want to share with you just so that you don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Take these sage lessons very seriously or you will suffer…just kidding, I hope you will read them as the advice of a first time G4 reporter but at the end, do ONLY what works for you and do it with integrity.
Lesson one- Start Now:
Not in 6 months, not when the G3 time limit is over, not when the next reporting cycle come around. Start now. The earlier you are in the game and the more time you have to get into the G4 mindset, the better your reporting journey will be.
Lesson two- Seek help:
I naively thought that the GRI implementation manual and Reporting Principles and Standard Disclosures would be enough to learn about G4. 600 pages and many sleepless nights later, I realized how wrong I was. The GRI material is very extensive and is definitely not beginner friendly. It was only when I got hold of Understanding G4 from the indomitable force that is Elaine Cohen, did G4 begin to make sense and even seemed exciting. So if your take one piece of advice from this post, make it this one. Get hold of the book and be merry.
Lesson Three- Unlearn G3:
That’s it, there is no going back, You HAVE to step out of the G3 mindset and step gracefully into the G4. It’s not easy, you will face internal resistance, and your brain will keep telling you how G3 did this or that and how it was easierrrr…so much easiiiieeer. The reality is, it is just familiar. When you make a conscious decision to let go of G3 and embrace G4 with all your heart, life will become much easier.
Lesson four- Materiality Does Matter:
At least 30% of the reporting effort should go in determining your materiality. G4 gives you the freedom to choose which aspects you wish to report on and expects you to make sensible and relevant choices based on what is material for you. Since GRI is no more adopting the demeanor of a stern school mistress, it is up to us reporters to ensure we make the materiality assessment as thorough and accurate as possible. Conduct interviews, engage with external stakeholders, go through the company strategy documents in detail, have some more engagement sessions and only then select material aspects that truly reflect what the company represents and include issues that are truly significant.
Lesson five- Gratification Galore:
Get ready for the sense of professional gratification and satisfaction from writing your first G4 report. The only regret I have is that I didn’t state sooner. It really is a great learning experience.
There are less than 50 companies worldwide who have taken the leap and to know that you are one of them is a great ego booster. Do it for the High!
Lesson six- Substance not volume:
This is true for all sustainability report but even truer for G4 because it gives you the option to determine material aspects based on your specific circumstances and I am hoping you did that smartly. Also make sure that these material spaces are laid out in the report as concisely as possible. The more the merrier approach does not apply here. Focus on things that will actually be important for stakeholders, information that will actually add value to the sustainability conversation, pictures that tell a story of how you tackled a material aspect and quotes that shares your sustainability struggles and achievements.
Lesson seven- Get the Check:
It doesn’t make sense to me that a company will go through the arduous process of developing a G4 report, and then choose not to get that final seal approval from GRI. While I do understand that GRI check does not imply that the company has applied G4 correctly, it does give the reader some assurance that your materiality assessment process and disclosure was checked by an external authority.
So here are my top seven lessons from doing my first G4 report. All the G3 reporters out there: get on the G4 train NOW…you don’t know what you are missing. If you have questions, hit me up!
And the G4 reporters, do you think I missed out any crucial lesson? Chime in the comments and let me know.