What do you need to know about the revisions to the GRI Universal Standards 2021?

The Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) latest update, ‘GRI Universal Standards 2021’, has come into effect from 1 January 2023. This update means that organisations cannot use the GRI Standards 2016 going forward.


GRI has periodically updated its reporting disclosures to reflect the evolution of ESG disclosures and strengthen the importance of impact reporting. According to KPMG’s latest survey on sustainability reporting, GRI’s remain the most widely used sustainability reporting standards, with 78% of the world’s 250 largest companies issuing sustainability reports aligned to the GRI Standards.

By using the updated GRI Standards, reporting organisations are better prepared to adopt other rapidly emerging regulatory ESG disclosure requirements such as the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and the IFRS sustainability disclosure standards that are being developed by the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB).

As quoted by Emmanuel Faber, Chair of the ISSB: “The ISSB is committed to creating a global baseline of reporting standards that meet the needs of investors. Our collaboration with GRI will bring clarity to the market on how our two sets of standards can interact to provide a comprehensive and seamless suite of reporting standards that meet the needs of broader stakeholders, while streamlining the process for companies.”

Additionally, GRI and ISSB have proposed to develop a methodology to cross-reference between guidance and other materials produced by themselves to maximise usefulness for reporting organisations.

Determining and reporting on your material topics

GRI’s updated materiality guidance supports implementing double materiality, which acknowledges that an organisation should report simultaneously on sustainability matters that are financially material in influencing business value as well as those that have an impact on the environment and society. The new Standards provide step-by-step guidance on how to determine material topics within the GRI 3 Universal Standard, guiding reporters on how to define the impact side of the materiality equation.

The updated Standards also include revised guidance for incorporating due diligence, requiring a more rigorous approach to documenting how a company addresses its actual and potential negative impacts, whether through its own activities or indirectly through supply chain or other business relationships. For example, a technology firm could claim that its environmental impact is mainly through its energy use at its offices or buildings. However, it is likely to have significant upstream impacts within its value chain. Under the revised guidance, the firm would need to report the actions it is taking or the plans it is making to reduce its actual and potential negative impacts across its value chain.

Removal of the ‘Core’ and ‘Comprehensive’ options

Previously, companies were allowed to produce sustainability reports using the ‘Core’ or ‘Comprehensive’ option. However, in the revised Standards, these have been replaced with ‘in accordance’ and ‘in reference’. Reporting in accordance requires organisations to comply with GRI’s nine key requirements, including reporting fully on GRI’s general disclosures, determining material topics and reporting on them, and providing reasons for omission. Reporting in reference requires companies to produce a GRI content index, provide a statement of use and notify GRI.

Although reporting ‘in reference’ requires minimal compliance requirements from a reporting organisation, we recommend this only for first-time GRI reporters. For others, reporting in accordance will be essential to demonstrate strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosure practices to your stakeholders.

Keep an eye out for the Sector Standards relevant to your industry

GRI is currently developing Sector Standards for 40 industries, prioritising the ones that have the highest impact on the environment and society. The Sector Standards that are now publicly available include Oil and Gas (GRI 11), Coal (GRI 12) and Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fishing (GRI 13). It is important to note that if GRI has published a Sector Standard relevant to your industry, you must report in line with it to claim the report to be ‘in accordance’ with GRI.

Ready to get started?

Whether you are an existing GRI reporter or a first-time reporter, we can help you with understanding and reporting in line with GRI’s disclosure requirements, as well as supporting you in identifying the key gaps in your current disclosure practices and providing guidance around closing these gaps. For more information, please get in touch: nesla.babu@luminous.co.uk

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