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Agreement Reached on Proposed Guidelines for Global Sustainability Reporting

The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (Ceres), a major U.S. coalition of investors, environmental and advocacy groups, announced today that for the first time, non-governmental organizations, environmental groups, business organizations, and other interested stakeholders agreed on a proposed set of globally relevant guidelines for corporate performance reporting on sustainability.
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BOSTON Mar 01, 1999

The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (Ceres), a major U.S. coalition of investors, environmental and advocacy groups, announced today that for the first time, non-governmental organizations, environmental groups, business organizations, and other interested stakeholders agreed on a proposed set of globally relevant guidelines for corporate performance reporting on sustainability.

The product of year-long discussions carried out by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the proposed GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines are a product of a working group of dozens of environmental, consumer, business, academic, and international institutions originally convened by Ceres. The proposed guidelines will be formally released at an international symposium co-sponsored by Ceres, the United Nations Environment Programme, The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine, and the Stockholm Environment Institute, to be held at Imperial College in London on March 4-5.

General Motors, one of several companies that collaborated in developing the GRI, confirmed its support for the proposed guidelines. "Companies like ours realize that in an age of growing interest in socially responsible investing, corporate social responsibility and environmental performance, a set of globally relevant guidelines will serve as both a business management tool and as a mechanism to meet our commitment to public accountability for our actions," said Judith M. Mullins of General Motors, who served on the GRI Steering Committee.

GRI leaders are hopeful that the new guidelines will become an international standard used throughout the international community by businesses, investors, shareholders, government agencies and advocacy groups. The guidelines will make easier a business' global decision-making, and will enable others to evaluate an individual company on a year-to-year basis, and by company-to-company comparisons. Ultimately, the guidelines are intended to simplify the current system in which different groups advocate various reporting schemes.

"Most companies realize they cannot ignore the public request for some sort of reporting on their progress toward sustainability. With the GRI, they can satisfy that demand with a single document," explained Dr. Robert Kinloch Massie, Executive Director of the Boston-based Ceres.

The overall intent of the new guidelines is to provide the public with a detailed profile of a company's progress toward sustainability, defined as performance across environmental, social, and economic criteria simultaneously. "Increased public disclosure will lead to increased accountability, resulting in greater motivation for companies to improve their performance," Dr. Massie predicted. A Pilot-test phase will follow the announcement of the guidelines, and is expected to involve several dozen large multinational corporations, including General Motors.

Said John Elkington, Chairman of the London-based SustainAbility Ltd., "Companies will increasingly need to respond in a way that coherently and holistically addresses their responsibilities. Using the GRI guidelines will help companies and their stakeholders design effective means to achieve the larger goals of sustainability and anticipate new issues as they emerge."

There is no aggregate scoring in the GRI guidelines, but the information will be organized so the sustainability performance of companies can be compared. The GRI preamble sets out the underpinnings of the guidelines and general reporting principles. Specific information to be provided includes a CEO statement, a company profile and financial performance statement, an assessment of company policies, organizations and systems and management, stakeholder relationships, product performance, and a sustainability overview.

"The importance of this project to UNEP's and more broadly the UN's priorities in brining about sustainable development can hardly be overstated. Our agency will continue to encourage greater transparency and accountability by the world's corporations," said Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel, director of the United Nations Environment Programme Industry and Environment Division.

Among other businesses and groups that collaborated on the GRI discussions are World Resources Institute, ITT Industries, NovoNordisk, Investor Responsibility Research Center, Polaroid, the Council on Economic Priorities, New Economics Foundation, British Petroleum, Centre for Science and Environment (India), SustainAbility Ltd., Environmental Auditing Research Group (Japan), Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (Italy), Stockholm Environment Institute, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Arthur D. Little, and others.

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