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ISOS Group Archives - Sustainability Reporting and Risk Management

31 Jan


CSR In Focus, Annual Sustainability Reports analysis

January 31, 2015 | By |


San Diego, CA | January 31, 2015:

In an age of continuous improvement, performance evaluations and endless surveys, we may ask, “How many more sustainability reports do we actually need?” But when it comes to sustainability reporting and the critical need for transparency in this arena, perhaps the answer should be, “Yes, please.” In early 2010, ISOS Group launched CSR in Focus, which summarizes the sustainability performance of a selection of leading brands, as disclosed in their annual sustainability or corporate social responsibility reports. But tell you what: these reports are in high demand …here’s why!

CSR in Focus reinforces the competencies of our recently trained professionals in Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) – based sustainability reporting, while generating functional assessments of published reports. With potential evaluators lined up, our challenge was developing a scoring rubric for participants that accounts for the critical components of GRI and sustainability philosophy. The solution arrived as a simple, yet information-rich matrix providing logical and comparable metrics, with greater values indicative of better performance:

• Content and Quality, based directly upon the GRI Framework’s Reporting Principles, participants scored reports on the aptitude with which the framework was applied to the report

• Commitment to Sustainability, linking organizational impacts to the triple bottom line, this factor serves to show where (and how) the “rubber meets the road”– ensuring policies, procedures and practices in place support sustainability commitments

Each metric was then broken down in a way that could be easily understood and numerically assessed, resulting in 14 individually evaluated principles:

• Report Content: Materiality (External); Materiality (Internal); Stakeholder Engagement; Sustainability Context; Completeness; Reliability.

• Report Quality: Clarity; Balance; Comparability; Accuracy; Timeliness.

• Commitment to Sustainability: Economic Integrity; Commitment to Society and Protection of Human Rights; Demonstrated implementation of Environmental Protection Policies.

The resulting quadrants of the matrix allow us to categorize performance within the upper and lower 50th percentiles, putting a name to the type of reporting we were witnessing: Reports evaluated by participants are selected for recent publication, innovative reporting practices, and adherence to the GRI Framework – and our sample represents everyone from the world’s largest multinationals, to the World Bank, San Diego International Airport, SME’s like Hunter Industries and even academic institutions such as Ball State University. With dozens of individual assessments per selected report, ISOS then crafts customized scorecards for the participating organizations. The aggregate provides a unique overview of how trained readers perceive adherence to the reporting framework and demonstrated organizational commitment to sustainability.

Over our program iterations from 2010-2014, 817 GRI trained sustainability professionals contributed to this analysis of 125 unique reports from over 96 different organizations. For 15 of the organizations, ISOS compared at least two reports year-over-year to determine if lessons learned from previous reporting cycles were incorporated into future issuances. The outcome showed that about 50% improved performance in at least one of the two matrix metrics, while 27% managed to perform better in both.

Through the lens of CSR in Focus, we have generated a new perspective on the “state of reporting,” showing us the average annual performance of each group of evaluated reports. Those figures, when plotted on our matrix, reveal impressive overall levels of performance. However, poor performance in properly applying the concepts of sustainability context, materiality (external factors), balance, and completeness demonstrates the need for further improvement.

That is where CSR in Focus fits in. Interested in having your latest sustainability report considered in our selection process for future CSR in Focus evaluation?

Please contact us today!


Reports assessed in 2014:

Ball State University:

Microsoft 2013 Citizenship Report:

Inter-American Development Bank 2013 Sustainability Report:

International Paper:

WESST: World Bank:



Simple Green:

Caesars Entertainment:


City Hall of Bloomington:

Northrop Grumman (download the full report):

World Bank:


Johnson & Johnson:


HCP, Inc. :

Bank of America 2012 CSR Report (G3.1 B+, Ext. Assured):

Estee Lauder:

Alaska Airlines 2013 Sustainability Report:

UC Berkeley 2013 Campus Sustainability Report(G4):

22 May


Global Reporting Initiative-GRI G4

May 22, 2013 | By |

Previous iterations of the Global Reporting Initiative’s standards have been all-inclusive, encouraging reporters to report widely on their environmental, social and governance issues.  Some critics of the G3.1 and G3 standards complained that they rewarded breadth over depth by categorizing reports into three levels (A, B and C) – with the “best grade” given to the reports with the biggest scope. 

G4 represents a big shift in the standard – away from “put it all out there” to “less is more” – so long as what gets reported is material to the organization. The new standards ask reporters to use the sustainability report to document what really matters- a big shift away from reporting on everything the company monitors.

First things first. The G4 is split into two complementary documents: a manual consisting of the principles and standard disclosures themselves and a separate implementation manual to help reporters make their way through the process. The second document details the necessary steps a reporter needs to take to launch and manage a sustainability reporting process within any organization, regardless of their level of experience. The first document offers flexibility for preparers to choose which disclosures to focus on and how to align efforts to local/regional report requirements and frameworks. In addition, new clarifications on how to report on shared supply chain impacts outside of operational control will hopefully support organizations in taking additional responsibility for supply chain sustainability and governance.

Here are the key changes reporters need to know about from G4:


Gone are the lettered reporting levels (A, B, and C) that encouraged American reporters to go for that A+. There will now be an “in accordance” system with two distinct tracks: an entry level track for General disclosures and a more Comprehensive track.

The concept of full or partial coverage will no longer be relevant. Now, reports can only be “in accordance” or not. If a company does not have all the data available, in order to be “in accordance,” it now must disclose omissions using detailed guidance within the G4.

Organizations can still determine the depth of reporting they wish to undertake. For the immediate future (approximately three months), GRI will continue to offer Application Level Checks. The board of directors will then meet in September to discuss continuation and/or approach to offering this service now that the levels are going away.

What happens to companies that choose not to be “in accordance”? Reporters that refer to GRI as a guide, but do not fully implement the principles and components are not required to publish a Content Index. They are however, encouraged to state that the Guidelines were referred to.


Materiality will continue to be emphasized in prompts throughout the guidelines. Where issues are deemed material, reporters will be required to disclose on those issues.

When organizations are unable to measure and/or track all material aspects or indicators, they will need to acknowledge the relevance and admit limitations in data availablility.

G4 will not require a reporting organization to discuss each indicator – as with the previous A level scenario. Now reporters only need to discuss those that relate to a material aspect. That means that organizations with a large staff of knowledge workers in the U.S. and no physical products, probably do not need to spend much time addressing supply chain issues. For new reporters, this may make things easier as only one indicator from each material aspect requires a response. However, it may require more preparation as going through the materiality process is essential and more details may be required.

Materiality Revisited: It is likely that organizations will be asked to select aspects solely within one or a pair of categories, as opposed to the many different aspects A level reporters were previously expected to report on. This means that some of the reporting process will be a judgment call since organizations need to determine what they can feasibly report on.


DMAs will now be more focused at the Aspect level (GRI’s term for general fields of sustainability performance, like Energy Use or Labor/Management Relations) – meaning that companies will disclose on how they manage each Aspect separately. Makes sense, right? More Generic DMAs will allow for several aspects to be grouped together and addressed at the Category level (one step up). Three distinct elements will help guide reporters in reporting. First, organizations will explain why an Aspect is material and which impacts make it material, second, how the organization manages impacts, and third, which mechanisms are in place for evaluating the management approach.

Though a General Disclosure item will also prompt organizations to describe the supply chain and shared impacts, supply chain mapping as proposed in the exposure drafts will not be a required step in the process. Considering shared impacts across the supply chain and determining who is affected will be an integral concept fed throughout.


Current Sector Supplements (specific reporting guidelines for various industries) will be adapted to Sector Disclosure Tables- starting with Financial Services and Mining & Metals. All others will be adapted soon after along with additional sectors developed in time.


The guidelines now allow for external (third party) assurance to be conducted by different organizations for different impact areas. Disclosures about the assurance should be indicated in the Content Index accordingly.


All in all, these changes will make the G4 much more straightforward and easy for newcomers and experience reporters alike. The development of the guidelines took two years, and GRI went through nearly one thousand drafts to reach these final edits. The development of these guidelines required extensive stakeholder consultation. Working Groups from across the world contributed feedback as did thousands of individuals around the world. GRI should be applauded for conducting such a thorough process and using this enormous amount of feedback effectively to produce a simple and effective guideline for reporting.

If you want to learn more about the G4, a bridging module on the G4 will be incorporated into all the ISOS Group GRI certified sustainability reporter trainings happening after July 1st. A free webinar will also be available (soon!) for ISOS Group’s past course participants. Visit our GRI training page to sign up for a full course.

01 Jan


GRI G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines

January 1, 2013 | By |


GRI will publish the fourth version of its Sustainability Reporting Guidelines (G4) at the end of May 2013. For those interested in using the G4 Guidelines as soon as possible, the Global Reporting Initiative strongly recommends that you complete the current G3.1 GRI Certified Training Course now, and then sign up for the G4 Bridging Module course in mid-2013.

Here’s how it works:

MAY 2013: GRI will launch the G4 Guidelines at its Global Conference on Sustainability and Reporting in Amsterdam beginning on May 22, 2013, with a special pre-conference training exclusively for the GRI Certified Training Partners around the world, including ISOS Group.

JUNE 2013: After the public announcement of the G4 Guidelines, GRI will release the GRI Certified G4 Bridging Module, specifically designed for those who have already completed the GRI Certified G3.1 Training.

SUMMER 2013: ISOS Group will offer two ways to get trained on G4:

  • A webinar will highlight the key differences between the G3/G3.1 and the G4 Guidelines.
  • GRI Certified G4 Bridging Module will be offered as an add-on option (priced separately) to our regular two-day trainings, providing more in-depth coverage of G4.

All attendees of ISOS Group G3.1 training courses offered through May 2013 will automatically qualify for a FREE webinar and/or a 50% DISCOUNT on the GRI Certified G4 Bridging Module.

FALL 2013: After the release of the official G4 Bridging Module to its training partners, GRI will finalize and release the full two-day GRI Certified G4 Training course materials. ISOS expects to introduce the G4 course in the last quarter of 2013.

Additionally, the G3.1 Guidelines will be in effect for another two years, providing G3.1 reporters ample time to transition to the G4 Guidelines.


Sign up now for one of the upcoming GRI Certified Sustainability Reporting Trainings in your town @TRAINING EVENTS.