This was the opening plenary at the 5th GRI Global Conference which held on the 18th-20th of May, 2016 in Amsterdam. Almost 1200 sustainability leaders and practitioners from 73 different countries gathered at the event to be inspired, trigger ideas and network; all with a common goal- to embrace the new era of corporate exposé.
In the past four decades, sustainability has transformed severally, both as a concept and in deed-from activism to risk management, and then, cause marketing. The opening session of the forum points out the key moment in the evolution of sustainability we are all experiencing, and how partnerships and collaboration will be vital for furthering this agenda.
The focus of sustainability has slowly shifted to integration, product innovation, and even governance. A participant at the conference, Michael Meehan stated: “Sustainability issues need to be embedded in all decisions by governments and businesses, the first step in achieving this is collaboration. It is imperative that we no longer work in silos with competing standards, and frameworks. We need the ‘walled gardens’ of sustainability to come down.”
Today, sustainability has become associated with strategy, longer-term results and resource conservation while also dragging with it the decade-old interpretation of reputation, risk management and philanthropy. Are there challenges? Of course, there are!
GRI announced a new Digital Reporting Alliance during the Conference, with the aim of addressing two key challenges in sustainability reporting: the lack of structured data and the lack of demand for digital reporting. The definitions, data and opinions on sustainability will continue to differ for a long time to come.
Technology, data and innovation are becoming systemic, spurring developments as we move from vision to action. The ‘tsunami of data’ today, can be harnessed to shape the future and move beyond reports, liberating information which is on the agenda of GRI’s four strategic priorities, as announced earlier this year.
Also, during the opening plenary, participants were asked the question: ‘What changes in society are driving changes in reporting?’ The majority, 39%, pointed to increased capital market demand, with 26% accrediting it to increased regulation, and 20% believing the change is due to better corporate leadership.
The question still remains- ‘20 years on: Are we making a difference?