The environmental awareness of a brand is no longer a motive for praise. In fact, today, the lack of it is a motive for shame. However, it is worth mentioning that just talking about the environment is not enough. What stakeholders look for are concrete actions and proven results.

ESG reporting, also known as sustainability reporting, has become imperative for publicly traded companies that want to be recognized as a good ESG investment. A number of structures and frameworks have emerged over time to assist companies in gathering data, standardizing reports and disseminating ESG metrics. The use of these frameworks is voluntary, though they are required on some occasions, such as when requested by an investor, client or investment bank.

Selecting the ideal sustainability reporting framework for your company can be quite a challenge, especially with the many different standards and frameworks in the ESG world today. The topics they address may vary, but there is significant overlap in the common goal of providing a transparent picture of a company’s ESG impacts.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is one of the global reporting frameworks available to companies, helping them measure their sustainability impacts by providing relevant ESG metrics and topics. In today’s article, we will provide a brief account of this important framework.

The history of GRI

GRI was founded in Boston (USA) in 1997, following the public outrage and protests over the environmental damage caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The incident involved the Exxon Valdez tanker, which accidentally spilled 11 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Alaska in 1989. In response, a group of socially responsible investors, together with environmental groups and non-profit organizations, joined forces in 1990 to form the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (known as Ceres). The institution established the Valdez Principles (later renamed the Ceres Principles), a voluntary code of conduct adopted by companies to protect the environment.

At that time, sustainability reporting was practically unheard of. Very few companies provided non-financial disclosures. Joan Bavaria, founder of Ceres, realized that the principles would need an accountability mechanism to have any real impact. In the following years, collaboration between Ceres and the Tellus Institute developed a reporting framework for the Ceres Principles. This became the basis for the initial GRI guidelines (G1) introduced in 2000 as the first global framework for sustainability reporting. In 2001, GRI was established as an independent non-profit institution.

In 2016, GRI stopped providing guidelines to establish the first global standards for sustainability reporting – the GRI Standards.

How are GRI standards used?

The GRI Standards are a modular system made up of three sets of standards used together: Universal Standards, Sector Standards and Topic Standards.

Universal Standards

Universal standards apply to all businesses and organizations and serve as a guide for identifying relevant topics. These standards have been revised to focus on delivering quality disclosures and ensuring responsible business conduct. The universal standards contain GR1, GR2 and GR3. These standards are described by the GRI as follows:

  • GRI 1: Foundation 2021 – Presents the purpose and system of the GRI Standards and explains the main concepts in sustainability reporting. It also specifies the reporting requirements and principles that organizations must comply with in order to report results in accordance with the GRI Standards. GRI 1 is the first Standard that organizations should consult to better understand how to report their metrics using the GRI Standards.
  • GRI 2: General Disclosures 2021 – Includes content that the organization uses to present information on its reporting practices and other organizational details, such as its activities, governance and policies. This information allows you better understand the profile and scale of the organization and provides a context for understanding its impacts.
  • GRI 3: Material Topics 2021 – Provides guidance on how to determine material topics. The GRI 3 also includes content that the organization uses to report information about its process for determining material topics, its list of material topics and how it manages each topic.

Sector Standards

Sector Standards provide organizations with information on their likely material topics. The organization uses the Sector Standards that apply to its sectors when determining its material topics and what information to report for material topics.

You can choose the Oil and Gas Sector (GR 11), Coal Sector (GR 12) and Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Sectors (GR 13). While the Sector Standards provide strict guidelines, they are not intended to replace your company’s internal process for identifying material topics.

Topic Standards

Topic Standards include content for organizations to present information on impacts related to certain topics. Topic Standards address a wide range of topics. Organizations use the Topic Standards according to the list of material topics determined with the GRI 3.

GRI standards

Source: GRI

Where can we find the GRI standards?

The GRI Standards, including sector and specific topic standards, are free and can be downloaded on the website of the Global Reporting Initiative.

On the website, you can select the language and then browse the content. It is important to note that, for the time being, the GRI Standards 2021 Update is only available in English, simplified Chinese, Spanish and traditional Chinese. Translations in other languages are being prepared for release.

Thus, in some languages, some nomenclatures may be outdated. For example, GRI standards 1, 2 and 3 in Portuguese are still described as GRI 101, 102 and 103. There are also no translations for some sector standards that are available in English, such as GR 11, 12 and 13 – Oil and Gas Sector, Coal Sector and Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Sector, respectively.

How do organizations use GRI standards?

The GRI reporting framework is flexible and customizable, with specific topic and sector standards designed to facilitate reporting based on a company’s operations. Companies that want to complete a report in full compliance with all standards can file their report with the GRI to meet the Business Transparency SDGs.

For companies that have not fully implemented an ESG program, there is an option to prepare a partial report. For example, an organization that wants to report on its environmental impacts may use universal and specific environmental topic standards, leaving out economic and social standards.

Who uses GRI reporting standards?

Today, the GRI is the framework most used globally to report ESG performance. It is present in over 10,000 reports in 100 countries. A KPMG study found that nearly 73% of the world’s 250 largest companies (the G250) use GRI Standards. In addition, two-thirds (67%) of the N100 (the top 100 companies in 52 countries) also use GRI. According to a report by the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG), 54% of the companies in Europe use GRI, more than any other reporting framework

Why does the GRI stand out among ESG reporting frameworks?

While the GRI is the most widely used ESG reporting standard in the world, it is also easy to use it in conjunction with other sustainability frameworks and standards such as SASB, CDP, TCFD and others. The GRI also announced support for a number of initiatives aimed at a globally consistent, comparable and integrated set of disclosure guidelines and standards. However, the GRI still stands out for a number of reasons:

  • It employs an independent, multisectoral process for defining standards, managed by the Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB);
  • It uses a global reporting language;
  • International advisory bodies ensure the neutrality of any specific sector or stakeholder group;
  • It offers a wide range of topics that address all ESG impacts, meeting the needs of various stakeholders and that can be used by any organization.
  • It has strong support from policymakers and market regulators around the world;
  • It is aligned with intergovernmental targets, such as the UN SDGs.
  • It has partnerships with organizations such as ISO, OECD, UN Global Compact and UNEP to ensure standards are aligned with global development initiatives;
  • It promotes the inclusion of stakeholders – one of the GRI principles is the inclusion of stakeholders, requiring companies to identify their stakeholders. This allows them to better meet stakeholder expectations and interests;
  • It is focused on the economic, environmental and social impacts of a company’s activities.

Adopting the GRI Framework with SoftExpert ESG

Determining which sustainability reporting framework or standard to use is just the beginning of this long ESG journey. One has to determine material topics, allocate responsibilities, gather and evaluate data, and disclose it in accordance with reporting requirements.

Adopting the GRI framework can improve stakeholder relations and ensure long-term sustainability for your company. SoftExpert ESG turns your ESG risks into values and opportunities and automates processes end-to-end. The tool allows you to use not only the GRI framework, but also other reporting standards to manage your entire sustainability strategy.

As a comprehensive ESG solution, SoftExpert ESG software improves data transparency and accountability, saving time and resources while facilitating internal and external communication and engagement.


Camilla Christino


Camilla Christino

Business Analyst at SoftExpert, completed a Bachelor's in Food Engineering at Instituto Mauá de Tecnologia. She has solid experience in the quality area in the food industries with a focus on monitoring and adapting internal and external auditing processes, documentation of the quality management system (ISO 9001, FSSC 22000, ISO / IEC 17025), Quality Control, Regulatory Affairs, GMP, HACCP and Food Chemical Codex (FCC). She is also certified as a leading auditor in the ISO 9001: 2015.

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