Three Things You Need to Know about GRI G4

The improved rhetoric triangle of sustainability reporting
Three Things You Need to Know about GRI G4
Publ. date 20 Jun 2013
For numerous sustainability experts around the globe, the main event of the year 2013 was the global GRI conference, held in May in Amsterdam. At the GRI conference the new and long anticipated G4 sustainability reporting standard was introduced and discussed. So what are the key take-aways of this new standard?

The link between Aristotle and sustainability reporting

The overall objective of developing the G4 standard was to improve the quality of sustainability reporting in general. In other words: how can nonfinancial information be presented in a true and convincing manner to its stakeholder audience?

 But how to persuade an audience? Aristotle has taught us that a speaker’s ability to persuade its audience is based on how well he appeals to that audience in three different ways: 
  • Logos, which appeals to reason.
  • Ethos, which appeals to credibility.
  • Pathos, which appeals to the emotions and the sympathetic imagination, as well as to beliefs and values.
The key changes within the GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines can be summarized in three main points: more logic, better credibility and expanded empathy.

1. Increased Logos: Intensified focus on materiality 

Materiality has become a key principle for GRI as it has over the years for benchmarks such as Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Therefore the first step required for G4 is a systematic materiality assessment with the stakeholders. This defines the issues related to sustainability within the company and the sector(s) it operates in. This requires research on who the relevant stakeholders are and which issues are relevant to them. On these issues, companies will have to report. Reporting on non-material issues does not tick any boxes. As an example: Coca-Cola is not required to report on happy polar bears, but factual information about obesity is appreciated.

2. Towards a more transparent Ethos: No more application levels 

To improve the credibility of the GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines the dreaded A, B, C application levels are no longer in place and the "+" that was previously used to signal external report assurance has been removed. GRI G4 considers an “in accordance” scheme which consists of two options: “Core” and “Comprehensive.” Core reports include the majority of the standard disclosures and a minimum of one relevant indicator per material aspect. Comprehensive reports include all of the standard disclosures and all of the relevant indicators for each material aspect.

3. Expansion of Pathos: Focus on the value chain and not just own operations

In the past few years the topic of sustainability has quickly expanded into a value chain perspective. Our world is moving from I to WE, as is for example demonstrated with the emergence of the circular economy thinking. For GRI G4 this means that the boundaries of reporting have elaborated and that for instance there integration of supply chain considerations into various indicators has become a requirement. The same principle applies downstream with materialities that are emerging during customer use.

Further information

The G4 sustainability reporting guidelines are consolidated into two "books." The first book focuses on reporting principles an standard disclosures. It is developed to provide context, planning and summary information for organizations using the guidelines. The second book is an implementation manual containing the guidance for material topics. Both books can be found at the GRI website.


Would you like to know more about GRI G4 or the materiality matrix as a building block of your sustainability program? Please contact Jan van der Kaaij, managing partner, at or call +31 6 28 02 18 80. 

About Jan van der Kaaij

Sustainability expert in strategy development, DJSI and sustainable innovation, with a hands-on approach and always committed to go for the max. | 

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