I'll be at the 5th Global GRI Conference in Amsterdam, having a great time.
If my experience of all the previous GRI conferences I have attended (all but the first one) is anything to go by, it's going to be a fabulous few days. There's always a sort of community vibe at GRI conferences - more so than any of the other global susty gatherings I have attended over the years. I think it comes from a shared interest in the present and the future of reporting and the genuine professional collegiality that sets the tone for the conference. It's like being among friends, even the ones you haven't met yet. Anyway, I have booked my travel and my hotel
, and am looking forward to seeing how the program develops. GRI has shared an outline of the event with us, but leaves us guessing as to who will be the big name keynoters and other plenary and breakout speakers - past conferences have always had a host of first-class speakers so I don't expect to be disappointed in 2016. Of all those who took center stage at the last conference, the voice of dissent
of Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC
(International Trade Union Confederation) was one of the most memorable. Instead of playing nice on stage, she played tough - and talked about the dissonance between the annual filing of Sustainability Reports "with no conscience" and the continued abuses of human rights across workforces around the world. Hers was a wake-up shake-up call and no-one fell asleep as she was talking.
In the same way as Sharan was asking, (my paraphrase), how it is that companies are publishing all these Sustainability Reports and the world has still not been fixed, GRI is opening with a conference plenary with a similar question: 20 years on: are we making a difference? Of course, that's a bit of a rhetorical question. No-one in their right minds will stand on stage and say no to that question. But as everyone answers yes, the very next question is: how much of a difference are we making and in what way? And that's where the debate sets in, and the opinions differ and we are all called to account. I hope that this upcoming conference will seek out the voices of dissent, and will hold back from being somewhat of a predominantly self-congratulatory affair as has been the tendency of GRI conferences in the past. In looking at success stories and how much has been achieved, there has been an inclination to minimize what has not yet been achieved. I won't get into a balance sheet of wins and losses of GRI and/or of companies who use GRI guidelines, but I will say that I hope the debate will be real and meaningful. That's why we are coming to Amsterdam. Not just for a pat on the back, but also for a kick in the pants. Something to help get us to a new level of sustainability thinking and strategy and into new territories of effective and useful reporting.
An example of new territories, I think, is the way GRI has been advancing sustainability reporting with SMEs in large company supply chains in the GRI Business Transparency Program
funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). In 2014, 14 SMEs in India took part
and their G4 reports can be viewed in the GRI Sustainability Disclosure database. In 2015, a further 14 SMEs in the supply chain of Arçelik, a Turkish household appliances manufacturer, took part in the program and are expected to publish first reports in due course. Of course, as we all know, the value of reporting is at least as much in the process as in the words on the pages of a published report, and I expect these SMEs should be deriving great value from this program. Which brings me back to the conference....
Empowering sustainable decisions. That's the new GRI strategy tag-line
and the 2016 conference will create room for exploration of what this means and for whom. The tag-line needs be translated into tangible and practical actions that deliver sustainable outcomes that we can measure and replicate. To help us do all of that, GRI 2016 offers four plenary sessions - you can read about these in the conference flyer
- and hey, check out who's quoted! (If I had known my feedback would be included, I would have included "Hi Mom" at the end).
In addition to the plenaries, the conference has 6 tracks that do a good job of covering the reporting landscape and challenges that we all face.
Also at the 2016 conference, GRI is providing a platform for sustainability service providers to deliver master classes (14 options, fees per 3-hour class in addition to conference registration). I was thinking of offering a master class in the art of ice cream consumption but I wasn't sure if everyone would agree to bring the ice cream.
You can download the conference program here
, complete with all the session headings but not yet with speaker and panelist names. More detail of each session is provided on the conference website
Earlier this week, I had a chat with Rashmi van de Loenhorst, GRI's Director of Marketing & Communications
. She told me: "This conference will bring together a wide diversity of delegates interested in reporting and the value of reporting to empower decision-making. It's a vehicle through which we can help drive change - we want to acknowledge the good things that have been achieved but also encourage difficult conversations about what needs to change. It's not a conference about G4 - there is no single session about how to use the G4 guidelines - rather, with this conference we want to focus more on how we leverage the value created through the reporting process as an even more effective catalyst for collaboration and progress. We'll be doing some interesting new things at the conference - a hackathon, for example to explore how we can be part of a new movement for using sustainability data in a different way, and what is meant by by "data is a platform" and how we can demonstrate that."
I am looking forward to meeting up with loads and loads of CSR Reporting Blog readers at #GRI2016 in Amsterdam next May. By that time, I hope to have worked out what a hackathon actually is .....
Elaine Cohen is a CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional an Ice Cream Addict! Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting AND Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary Partnership for Advancing Responsible Business Practices. You can follow her on Twitter @elainecohen