Sustainability Reporting Standards, Guides & Initiatives

GRI – Global Reporting Initiative

​”The GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (GRI Standards) are the first and most widely adopted global standards for sustainability reporting.”

Founded in 1997, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is an Amsterdam-based international organization which develops guidelines for businesses, governments as well as non-governmental organizations, in view of the creation of sustainability reports. The aim is to help stakeholders throughout their progress towards sustainable development.

Since 1997, the GRI standards have undergone several revisions and changes. The latest modification of the standards however was a more general revision with regards to the structure and terms.

The GRI Standards are divided into three main areas:

  1. Universal standards: The disclosures in this area are mandatory for every organization which reports in accordance with* the GRI. As the name reveals, the organization that is reporting has to disclose general information about their business and material topics. These disclosures are the foundation on which the following areas/modules are building on.
  2. Sector standards: The GRI organization is developing 40 standards in total specific to certain industries and has already begun working out sectors with the highest impact. As of June 2022, the following sector standards are available: Oil and Gas, Coal and Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fishing. The industries that will come out next are Fishing, and Mining. If a suitable sector standard is available, organizations are required to utilize the disclosures contained in the standard.
  3. Topic standards: This last area has retained a similar structure to the previous GRI standards versions since it provides disclosures on specific topics, such as waste, tax, etc. When reporting, the organization has to select the topic standards which correspond to their previously defined material topics (-> (1) Universal standards).

These new GRI Standards are in effect from 1. January 2023.

GHG Protocol – Greenhouse Gas Protocol

Established in 1998, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP) provides a globally standardized framework to measure and manage GHG emissions from private and public sector operations, value chains and emission reduction actions. It was formed through a partnership between the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development because of the need for a consistent framework for greenhouse gas reporting.

Supplying the world's most widely used greenhouse gas accounting standards, the GHG Protocol was used by 92% of Fortune 500 companies directly or indirectly through a program based on GHG Protocol in 2016.

What are scope emissions?

According to the GHG Protocol, a company's greenhouse gas emissions are divided into three scopes. Scope 1 and 2 are mandatory to report, while scope 3 is voluntary and the most difficult to monitor. However, companies that manage to report on all three areas gain a sustainable competitive advantage.

Scope 1 emissions are direct GHG emissions that a company produces and controls. This scope includes greenhouse gasses emitted from four categories:

1. Stationary combustion: emissions from gas-powered office heating, gas-powered generators, and other on-site fuel combustion.

2. Process emissions: this category includes emissions that are released from manufacturing and other industrial activities that the company performs on-site.

3. Fugitive emissions: leaks from refrigeration, air conditioning units, and other machinery with the capacity to emit GHGs.

4. Mobile combustion: this category includes emissions from company vehicles and other transport assets owned by the reporting company.

Scope 2 emissions are indirect GHG emissions that a company produces by its use of electricity and power. These emissions come from power plants and utilities that supply the company with electricity, steam, heating, and cooling.

Scope 3 emissions are indirect GHG emissions that occur up and down the company's value chain and are not included in Scope 2. This scope is separated into 15 categories:

1. Purchased goods and services: emissions from the production of production-related products (i.e., manufacturing components) or non-production products (i.e., office supplies) that the reporting company buys from suppliers.

2. Capital goods: emissions from the production of capital goods purchased or acquired by the company. Emissions from the use of capital goods are accounted for in either scope 1 (e.g., for fuel use) or scope 2 (e.g., for electricity use).

3. Fuel and energy-related activities: emissions related to the production of fuels and energy purchased and consumed by the reporting company that are not included in scope 1 or scope 2.

4. Upstream transportation and distribution: emissions from the transportation of goods purchased by the reporting company and any off-site warehousing.

5. Waste generated in operations: emissions from waste sent to landfills or wastewater treatment plants.

6. Business travel: this category includes emissions from planes, trains, buses, private vehicles, etc. that the reporting company uses (but doesn’t own) to transport its workforce for business purposes.

7. Employee commuting: this category includes emissions from planes, trains, buses, private vehicles, etc. that employees use to get to the reporting company’s site(s).

8. Upstream Leased Assets: this category includes emissions from the operation of assets that are leased by the reporting company.

9. Downstream transportation and distribution: emissions from transportation of goods produced by the reporting company and any off-site warehousing.

10. Processing of sold products: this category includes emissions from the downstream processing of intermediate products that are sold by the reporting company.

11. Use of sold products: this category includes emissions from the use of goods and services sold by the reporting company.

12. End-of-Life Treatment: this category includes emissions from the waste disposal and treatment of products sold by the reporting company at the end of their life.

13. Downstream Leased Assets: this category includes emissions from the operation of assets that are owned by the reporting company and leased out to other entities.

14. Franchises: this category includes emissions from the operation of franchises that are not included in scope 1 or scope 2.

15. Investments: this category includes scope 3 emissions associated with the company’s investments that are not already included in scope 1 or scope 2. This category is often only applicable to investors and companies that provide financial services.

The majority of corporate emissions come from Scope 3 sources, but they are the most difficult to measure. To determine the accurate GHG footprint of a firm, a lifecycle assessment would need to be completed for every good or service that the firm provides. This is an expensive and time-consuming process, which is why the GHG Protocol outlines simpler approaches such as the average-data and spend-based methods.

CDSB Framework –
Climate Disclosure Standards Board Framework

CDSB was an international consortium of business and environmental NGOs committed to advancing and aligning the global mainstream corporate reporting model to equate natural capital with financial capital. CDSB has now been consolidated into the IFRS Foundation, providing staff and resources to the new International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB).

The CDSB Framework sets out an approach to reporting environmental and social information in mainstream reports including climate, water, biodiversity and social guidance.

The objectives of the CDSB Framework are to:
  • Assist companies in converting their sustainability information into long-term value;

  • Provide investors with clear, concise, and consistent information that links a company's sustainability performance to its overall strategy, performance, and prospects;

  • Facilitate and promote informed decision making by investors when allocating financial capital; and

  • Add value to an organization's existing mainstream report while mitigating reporting burden and making the reporting process simpler.

What do companies need to do?

The reporting requirements in the CDSB Framework obligate a company to:

  • describe the governance of environmental and social policies, strategies and information

  • report management’s environmental and social policies, strategies, and targets, including the indicators, plans and timelines used to assess performance

  • explain the essential current and anticipated environmental and social risks and opportunities affecting the organization

  • outline material sources of environmental and social impact

  • summarize conclusions about the effect of environmental and social impacts, risks and opportunities on the organization’s future performance and position, including a comparative performance analysis

  • Provide disclosure reports on an annual basis and explain any prior year restatements

UNGC – UN Global Compact

Launched in 2000 by the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the UN Global Compact is an initiative aimed at businesses worldwide that promotes the adoption and implementation of sustainable practices. The framework comprises ten principles concerning areas such as human rights, labor, and the environment. The UN initiated this programme in the hope that it would “give a human face to the global market“, and today, it is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative.

“Globalization is a fact of life, but I believe we have underestimated its fragility.”

A critical facet of reporting practices is the measurement and disclosure of non-financial factors regarding environmental, social, and governance issues. An important aspect in the process of sustainability reporting is materiality assessment, a method used to identify those elements that have a de facto impact at different levels (e.g. ethics, values, climate action, data security, social inclusion, water management).

The UN Global Compact – Cities Programme is “the urban arm of the UN Global Compact. Recognising the unique and complex challenges urban environments face, the Cities Programme works with the UN Global Compact’s network of city signatories to achieve fair, inclusive, sustainable and resilient cities and societies, through championing the 10 Principles and the UN Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]. The Cities Programme provides diagnostic tools, resources, capacity building and project support to cities, to facilitate multi-stakeholder partnerships which connect local and regional governments with the private sector, civil society and academic experts to support the local-level implementation of the SDGs. The Cities Programme is administered by an International Secretariat, which has been hosted by RMIT University since 2007.”

UN PRI – Principles for Responsible Investment

“We believe that an economically efficient, sustainable global financial system is a necessity for long-term value creation. Such a system will reward long-term, responsible investment and benefit the environment and society as a whole.”

The Principles for Responsible Investment are six principles developed by investors for investors with the aim of fostering a sustainable financial system.

The six principles are:

  1. We will incorporate ESG issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes

  2. We will be active owners and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices

  3. We will seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which we invest

  4. We will promote acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry

  5. We will work together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles

  6. We will each report on our activities and progress towards implementing the Principles

The association between the PRI and the UN goes back to 2005 when the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan fostered the creation of the working group developing the principles. As of today, the UN PRI are part of the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative and UN Global Compact.

UN SDGs – Sustainable Development Goals

In 2012, during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Conference), the UN started a process to determine a new framework to guide sustainable development which would succeed the Millennium Development Goals after 2015. In 2015 along with other major agreements, such as the Paris Agreement and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Reduction, the UN adopted the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” commonly referred to as the SDGs or Agenda 2030.

The SDGs are structured along 17 overall goals:

  1. No Poverty: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. Zero Hunger: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Good Health and Well-being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  4. Quality Education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  5. Gender Equality: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation
  10. Reduced Inequality: Reduce income inequality within and among countries
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy
  14. Life Below Water: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Life On Land: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Partnerships for the Goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

This integrated approach is cross sectoral, recognising that “action in one area will affect outcomes in others“. Moreover, it aims at promoting environmental and social development worldwide.

ESRS – European Sustainability Reporting Standards

In order to advocate and strengthen sustainability reporting in the EU, the Commission adopted a proposal in April 2021 for the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) which would amend existing reporting standards.

One of the core provisions of the CSRD is the compliance with European sustainability reporting standards (ESRS).

Currently, a draft of the ESRS has been released for public consultation until 8. August 2022, after which the first draft will be adapted and submitted to the European Commission in November 2022.

The proposed structure of the ESRS covers social, environmental and governance topics as well as standards for cross-cutting standards.

EMAS – Eco-Management and Audit Scheme

EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme) is a voluntary environmental management tool for companies and other organizations to evaluate, report and improve their environmental performance. It targets companies and other organizations that aim at systematically enhancing energy and material efficiency, reducing harmful environmental impacts and environment-related risks, and increasing their legal compliance. The current legal basis is Regulation No. 1221/2009, which was amended by EU Regulation 2017/1505 (Annexes I, II and III) and EU Regulation No. 2018/2026 (Annex IV). In December 2019, 1,150 organizations at 2,176 sites were EMAS-registered in Germany.

What do companies need to do?

The requirements of the international environmental management standard ISO 14001 are an integral part of an EMAS eco-management system. EMAS focuses primarily on measurable improvements, internal and external transparency, and legal certainty. The introduction of EMAS is intended to improve environmental performance, for example by increasing energy or material efficiency and reducing emissions, wastewater or waste at the site. In addition to such "direct″ environmental aspects, the "indirect″ environmental aspects, for example the environmental compatibility of products and services, procurement, the behavior of subcontractors or the working routes of employees are also recorded and evaluated. EMAS does not set minimum performance requirements, but rather supports organizations in enhancing their sustainability performance by implementing their eco-management system. The organization itself must identify its environmental impacts and obligations. Participation in the scheme is open to organizations operating in all economic sectors.

Organizations that implement an environmental management system (EMS) establish procedures to assess and improve their environmental performance. If they comply with the demanding guidelines of the EMAS Regulation, they can be listed on the EMAS register.

EMAS requirements:

  • Compliance with all environmental regulations, verified by an auditor and an official authority

  • Continuous improvement of environmental performance

  • Verification of the performance by a specifically trained verifier

  • Publication of key environmental data in an annual report on all relevant environmental impacts, the environment statement

The environment statement is the reporting instrument of EMAS. It provides a picture of the environmental performance of companies and other EMAS organizations. It focuses on key figures that clearly show the development of environmental performance over time. The environment statement shows the extent to which the organization has fulfilled its obligation to make appropriate improvements in environmental protection and what it has planned for the coming years. This relates not only to the direct environmental aspects occurring at the organization's site, but also to the indirect ones, for example the environmental impact of the products and services manufactured, of procurement or of the employees' commuting.

DNK - Deutscher Nachhaltigkeitskodex

The DNK (Deutscher Nachhaltigkeitskodex; eng. The Sustainability Code) was developed in 2010 by various stakeholder groups and went into effect in 2012. Since then the Code has been managed by the German Council for Sustainable Development.

The Code is comprised of 20 Criteria:

  1. Strategy

  2. Materiality

  3. Objectives

  4. Depth of Value Chain

  5. Responsibility

  6. Rules and Processes

  7. Control

  8. Incentive Schemes

  9. Stakeholder Engagement

  10. Innovation and Product Management

  11. Usage of Natural Resources

  12. Resource Management

  13. Climate-relevant Emissions

  14. Employee Rights

  15. Equal Opportunities

  16. Qualifications

  17. Human Rights

  18. Corporate Citizenship

  19. Political Influence

  20. Conduct that complies with the Law and Policy

In order to comply with the Sustainability Code, an organization has to declare conformity with all 20 criteria as well as conformity with non-financial performance indicators from the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative).

The Sustainability Code can be used for non-financial reporting in order to comply with CSR reporting (CSR-RUG).

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About the Climate Disclosure Standards Board | Climate Disclosure Standards Board (,guide%20the%20course%20they%20take.

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