This paper explores the extent to which adoption of the Global Reporting Initiative’s G3 reporting framework makes the external reporting of a company’s financial, environmental and social performance more comparable. This inquiry takes the form of analyzing the content of the published sustainability reports of well-known companies to compare and contrast the information communicated in these reports. Particular attention will be paid differences in the published content between companies in the same industry – Ford and Volkswagen in the automotive industry; Citigroup and Barclays in financial services; Merck and Bayer in pharmaceuticals; Nike and adidas in the sporting goods industry.
Critics of current corporate reporting practices abound. Particular criticism has been directed at the failure of annual reports or other regulatory files (e.g. 10Ks) to tell anything about a company's environmental and social performance. Triple bottom-line (TBL) reporting aims to remedy this shortcoming. However, initial efforts at TBL reporting were plagued by their lack of uniformity, consistency, and comparability in the information presented. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has attempted to fill this void by developing a detailed framework that is intended to create an analog to the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) approach to financial reporting. Simply put, if companies use the same ground rules in preparing their sustainability reports, the information presented in those reports should promote greater comparability.
The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) was formed in 1997 by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) in collaboration with the Tellus Institute. From its inception, the GRI has possessed a clear mission:
To this end, the GRI has developed and published reporting guidelines based upon the TBL reporting concept first developed by Elkington (1997; 1999). The guidelines follow the broad TBL reporting of economic, environmental, and social performance with the social grouping being further subdivided in terms of labor practices, human rights, society, and product responsibility. While compliance with the Guidelinesis entirely voluntary, approximately a third of the corporate responsibility reports produced in 2007 (over 1,000 organizations) use of the GRI framework, with 11% using the G3 Guidelines (Corporate Register, 2008).