Scores of sustainability data are collected and reported, but much of its value is still buried. According to GRI, sustainability performance data will be pivotal in solving society’s key challenges – and with the help of technology, the way it is captured, analyzed and used is all about to change.
In a new report released yesterday, GRI reveals insights from 24 interviews with business executives and experts on the future of sustainability reporting and disclosure. The Next Era of Corporate Disclosure: Digital, Responsible, Interactive is the culmination of the first year of its continuing Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project.
“GRI convened the Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project to promote a global conversation on how to unlock the full value of sustainability performance data for decision makers in the next decade,” said Michael Meehan, GRI’s Chief Executive. “Together with business executives and civil society leaders from diverse fields, we explored which type of information will be needed to tackle the most critical challenges and how data technology should be used to enable this journey.”
Initial findings on the key sustainability and business challenges to be tackled over the next 10 years, as well as the role of disclosure as decision-makers face those challenges, were released in an earlier report, Sustainability and Reporting Trends in 2025: Preparing for the Future.
The new report focuses on how the corporate disclosure movement can be taken to the next level – from an era of information collection and reporting to an era when performance data is more meaningful and accessible for both internal and external stakeholders. GRI’s interviews focused on which type of information will be needed to tackle the most critical challenges in the next decade and how data technology should be used to enable that journey.
The discussions led to 3 conclusions:
- New formats of reporting are emerging/will emerge as technology progresses towards more dynamic data exchange;
- The changing focus of reporting is putting greater emphasis on critical global issues such as climate change and supply chain impacts; and
- The role of stakeholders is changing – new ways of engaging internal and external stakeholders will emerge as access to more powerful data analysis becomes available.
The third conclusion also includes an interesting prospect: GRI predicts that stakeholders “will make use of almost real-time interactions.” The organization expects materiality to become an even more dynamic concept as stakeholders become empowered by access to company performance information through multiple sources. As a result, companies will need to react more quickly and coherently, in a more interactive way.
“After scores of discussions with business executives and other experts, it is clear that the way companies will interact with society about their performance will change dramatically, and sustainability performance data will play a pivotal role in implementing solutions to society’s most pressing challenges,” said GRI’s Chief Advisor on Innovation in Reporting Nelmara Arbex.
Paul Boykas, the Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs at PepsiCo, expects corporate disclosure to shift from a communications exercise to an exercise embedded in strategic decision-making.
Next, GRI plans to investigate how this ‘data liberation’ will take place, as well as how sustainability disclosure can transition from annual reporting to almost real-time disclosures in a way that is useful for decision-makers.