The GRI's approach to interoperability

Eelco van der Enden

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

GRI has existed for 25 years, during which time Mervyn was Chair, and its purpose has remained to facilitate societal fact-based discussions about impacts. We do this by providing reporting standards for the disclosure of business impacts on the environment and socio-economic cohesion. These standards are developed through rigorous due process and are freely available as a public good. The uptake of these standards has been growing exponentially. Over the last years we have seen more than 783,000 downloads of the standards and an increase to nearly 11,000 Standard users.

Environment, Society and Governance (ESG)

Although sustainability, or ESG, is about the Environment, Society and Governance, mostly emphasis is placed on the “E” — environment. Perhaps this is because the climate and carbon are more easily understood and more easily expressed in monetary terms. Social issues, such as human rights, diversity, and equal pay, are not as easily expressed. But these impacts are being increasingly scrutinised — 60% of the downloads of our standards were related to social matters.

How fragmented is the environment?

GRI promotes the need for global convergence and a global base line for sustainability reporting. GRI believes in reduced fragmentation and reduced complexity.

  • The European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG): EFRAG is executing on the Corporate Social Reporting Directive and publishing the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS). These standards, which provide a focus on both enterprise value and impact reporting, will be mandatory for certain companies from 2023, and will require assurance by an external auditor. GRI has been assisting EFRAG in the development of the ESRS. We need to note that this isn’t an adoption of the GRI standards by EFRAG , but rather a provision of guidance.
  • The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB): GRI has concluded a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the ISSB to merge agendas, align definitions and co-operate on future standards. GRI and the ISSB agree that: (i) financial and impact reporting are of equal importance; (ii) a clear, globally comparable reporting baseline is essential; and (iii) fragmented reporting initiatives at country levels should be limited. The first step has been the development of the two-pillar structure:
  1. Investor-focused capital market standards of IFRS Sustainability Disclosure Standards developed by the ISSB
  2. Multi-stakeholder standards of GRI standards as developed by the Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB).

Keeping it simple

GRI has a 25-year history and growing base of organizations reporting voluntarily against its standards and the IFRS Foundation has a history of use of the International Accounting Standards; together this makes an existing proof of concept. The environment has been in place for a number of years already, providing both financial and non-financial reporting to the satisfaction of stakeholders. It is logical for regulators to build on this proof of concept and drive for comparable and predictable publications on this basis. GRI does not see the need to change something which has been fundamentally proven to be a winning concept, especially given the current focus of society, and the capital markets, on the operationalisation of a global baseline. The intention is there, and the hope is there, that regulators and politicians will re-use and not reinvent.

The three global public consultations

The world is currently consulting on three broad sustainability standards – the ISSB draft standards, the ESRS draft and that published by the United States’ Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). The GRI does not believe that the United States will move to mandatory impact reporting – the SEC does not have this mandate and politically it will be difficult. However, large American corporations are interested in impact reporting and do care about their impacts. Many US corporates are already using GRI standards, more than those using the SASB standards.

Mandatory impact reporting and ‘twilighting’

GRI is neutral in this discussion and recognises that making something legally mandatory does not guarantee the achievement of the intended objectives. Europe will see mandatory reporting based on the GRI guidance; and voluntary impact reporting on the GRI standards will also be evident; but now we can also have something in between which I call ‘twilighting’. Recently, the SEC ruled that investors can force a vote at a company’s general shareholder meeting even in the event that the vote is neither legally required nor is it voluntarily offered by the company. This is something in between, the ‘twilight’, where organizations cannot ignore calls by significant shareholders (or stakeholders) for a say on company policy.


The system is not that difficult from a conceptual standard-setting perspective. It is not an alphabet soup. The answer is simple, the ISSB standards provide an ‘outside-in’ perspective (reporting on the environmental and social impacts on the company) and the GRI standards provide an
‘inside-out’ perspective (reporting on the impact of the company society and the environment). These are two sides of the same coin and together provide the intended holistic view.

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Eelco van der Enden

Chief Executive Officer, Global Reporting Initiative

Eelco joined GRI as CEO in January 2022 from multinational professional services network PwC, where he was Global ESG Platform Leader for Tax, Legal, People & Organisation Services.


The author of over 50 published articles on governance and reporting, he has held a range of senior roles with listed companies, including as head of treasury, risk management and tax.

From 2019 to 2021, Eelco served on the GRI Board of Directors while he was previously a member of the Technical Committee that developed the GRI Tax Standard (GRI 207), and Chair of the Tax Policy Group of Accountancy Europe.


Eelco is also a  Lecturer at Nyenrode Business University Centre for Tax Management and Tax Assurance, co-founder of the Tax Assurance Academy and a member of the Tax Policy Group of the Federation of European Accountants.

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