Kristin Clarke is books editor for Associations Now and a business journalist and sustainability director for ASAE.
The International Coalition of Mining and Metals' strategy to get its members to follow its new sustainability-reporting standards.
As sustainability reporting becomes more common in the corporate sector, driven primarily by investor demands for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data to strengthen their analyses of investment risks, the need for an independent, standardized reporting framework has grown as well.
Enter the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the most widely used ESG or corporate social responsibility reporting structure in the world. Considered the "gold standard" by many prominent companies, governments, and the United Nations, GRI is attracting associations interested in sharing their own journeys toward greater sustainability and transparency.
One example is the International Coalition of Mining and Metals (ICMM), a London-based trade organization of 18 major corporations and 30 mining and global-commodity associations that has committed to address the sector's core sustainability challenges and publicly report on progress.
A public survey in the late 1990s revealed that the industry needed to do something if it wanted continued access to
Worried, sector leaders formed ICMM and mandated a mission to improve sustainability performance in the mining industry.
"[Members] were all doing sustainable-development reports at that stage [in 2003], but there was a view that to use a standardized public-reporting framework would be in their interest," explains ICMM Communications Director Ben Peachey. "We as an organization were tasked with finding a public-reporting framework that had credibility and that would add value to what our members did as companies—not a box-ticking exercise but a framework that would help them improve their performance. The GRI framework, unsurprisingly, was the reporting framework of choice."
ICMM worked with GRI staff in 2006 to create the first standards specific to the mining and minerals sector, and one tangible benefit rapidly emerged—greater engagement between the investment community and ICMM and its members. "You'll see, especially in the UK, that socially responsible investors look to ICMM to understand what good practices look like for our sector," says Peachey.
After a two-year transition period, all but one new member now report at GRI levels, but chipping away at the reporting issue has sometimes been harder than diamonds. The main challenge involved ensuring that companies understand, interpret, and apply the standards in the same way. Inconsistency in reporting quality led ICMM to publish further guidance, Applying the ICMM Assurance Procedure, in January 2011, which Peachey says has helped.
With only a couple years of GRI-level reporting under its belt, is the industry seeing the improved business performance often promised by sustainability reporting advocates?
"This is the challenge coming up now," Peachey says. "… We're in the very early days of understanding how public reporting on nonfinancial issues relates to performance on the ground. However, we could certainly make an argument for improved performance based on their [stronger] engagement with ICMM and human-rights and community-relations [leaders]."
Kristin Clarke is a business journalist and writer and researcher for ASAE. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org