Following a set of guidelines that has been developed through a multi-stakeholder process can aid in making an organization’s report comparable to other organizations that follow the same set of guidelines. Even though the content of reports is becoming standardized, much variation still exists in sustainability reports compared to financial reports. Sustainability reporters need more time and experience to become more comparable.

Three types of guidelines are discussed:

  • Performance
  • Reporting
  • Assurance (checking information in the report)

ISO (performance standards)

The ISO 14000 series regarding environmental management is designed to be a performance standard rather than a reporting standard.

ISO 14063 is designed to help organizations with guidance and for all types of environmental communication.

ISO 26000 is a standard which provides guidance on the principles, practices, and definitions of social responsibility. It also helps organizations to implement and to promote socially responsible behavior throughout the organization.

GRI (reporting standard)

Probably the best know and most widely used set of guidelines is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) G3 Reporting Guidelines. As a global standard, GRI is designed to be used by all organizations (profit and non-profit).

To customize the guidelines, several industry specific guidelines have been developed as well. Furthermore, some countries and industry associations have developed their own reporting guidelines to address their unique impacts and customs.

GRI has three levels of reporting based on how many indicators are reported. A C level reporter will provide less information than a B level reporter, and a B level provides less information than an A level. Reporting levels can be self-checked or checked by GRI or another external party. If a “+” follows the reporting level, it signifies that the report has been assured by a party who is external to the organization.

Click here to see all the standard requirements for C, B, and A level reporters.

AA1000 Series (assurance standard)

An organization named AccountAbility has provided a series of standards called the AA1000 Series. AccountAbility provides a framework organizational accountability.

The best know of the AA standards is the assurance standard (AA1000AS), which provides a process for auditors to use to check accuracy of sustainability information published in reports. The standards are designed to be compatible other standards such as the GRI, the ISO Series and financial accounting standards. AccountAbility has also provided AA1000 Framework and AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard (AA100SES).