Empowering Sustainable Decisions at the 2016 GRI Conference

Interview with Alyson Slater, GRI

Alyson Slater heads GRI’s Knowledge Unit, which is tasked with collecting and mobilizing the vast knowledge and experience found within GRI’s staff and multi-stakeholder network. The Knowledge Unit also leads the development of new products and services to help reporting organizations, data users, and thought leaders optimize their use of GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards and the resulting reported data. GRI’s Emerging Market Regional Hubs in Hispanic America, Africa and South East Asia also fall under Alyson’s remit

She previously held roles as a Senior Associate at CSR Asia focused on poverty alleviation in Asian emerging markets and as a Strategic Communications Advisor for the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development—Kelly Eisenhardt.

Sustainability issues are not just limited to GHG-emissions and water use. What are some of GRI’s priority program areas and what outcomes do they generate?

There are many priorities for GRI to focus on these days. It’s important that GRI concentrate on what is most material to the companies and stakeholders that participate, including investor communities. New factors such as the Paris climate deal and the release of the UN Sustainable Development Goals make materiality and alignment of resources and priorities critical.

Prioritizing enables us to understand how to push the needle forward on megatrends like climate change and human rights. This is done by building on foundational issues we already report on and by being open to new information.

In doing so, we can stretch beyond reporting. With access to so much data, we want to decipher how data can be unlocked and used to better assess risk management, improve strategies, increase stakeholder relations, and enhance company performance.

In what ways will the conference showcase the full spectrum of sustainability issues, particularly in relation to the UN SDGs?

Companies are grappling with so many emerging issues. The challenge in front of us is to determine what role businesses play in supporting the UN SDGs. Most businesses are unsure of how they can contribute in a tangible way and what role they might play. This causes hesitation and uncertainty when deciding to contribute their resources to achieving the goals.

We need to help companies define how the goals relate to their business. We suggest a company begin by peering down their supply chain to determine the conditions and sourcing of how their products are made. It is important to understand each level of the supply chain and the practices instituted.

When considering a major food producer or retailer, it is likely that you will find women who are working in fields and factories. Many times, there is a struggle with labor conditions, pay equality, and access to education. More often than not, these women are supporting families and lack the opportunities to advance themselves and by default, their families. When matching up the SDG with the issues, we see that the goals that align most are SDG number 5 for gender equality and SDG number 8 regarding decent work.

It’s important that GRI help companies understand their value chain from a sustainability perspective. Along the value chain there are risks and impacts. Those risks and impacts are where GRI can raise awareness  and provide tools so that businesses can address the concerns fully.

This is what we plan to do at the conference. We will be conducting deep dives with attendees on topic like supply chain management and sourcing, gender equality, anti-corruption, land tenure, and human rights, to name only a few.

GRI just announced that the global energy company Enel has partnered with you to convene the conference. When I think about sustainability, power companies don't come to mind. Why have you decided to partner with Enel?

Enel makes perfect sense to us when it comes to finding a partner to help us tackle SDG 7 regarding access to affordable and clean energy. Our partnership is one of the ways we are working towards SDG 17, which calls for a revitalization of the global partnership for sustainable development.

Collaborating on a global scale and building large sustainable partnerships is part of GRI’s strategy to help businesses align and support the U.N. SDGs. By collaborating with major partners, we are in a better position to reach more organizations, thus creating a multiplier effect globally.

We’ve learned through these types of efforts that we can leverage our reporting framework to report positive data, not only gaps. Enel is very familiar with our framework, as it is a member of our GOLD Community, and has become a leader in sustainability reporting.

Can you share some examples of how Enel is a leader in sustainability reporting?

Sure! Enel started sustainability reporting back in 2003. During the early 2000s, very few companies implemented any kind of sustainability metric tracking or reporting. Enel was a leader in this space early on.

We realized the partnership was a good fit because GRI and Enel both have a deep commitment to building technology and capturing sustainability data that propels companies beyond corporate disclosure reports.

Enel has actively engaged in our Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project over the last 18 months. You can find the initial findings on the GRI website in our recently released report The Next Era of Corporate Disclosure: Digital, Responsible https://www.globalreporting.org/resourcelibrary/The-Next-Era-of-Corporate-Disclosure.pdf.

As a corporation, Enel has committed to being carbon-free by 2050. They are doing this by leveraging technology and process innovations to meet this goal. Fortune magazine listed Enel as Number Five out 50 companies that can change the world. You can find out more by going to Enel’s websitehttps://www.enel.com/en-gb/Pages/article/vision.aspx .

This is the 5th GRI Global Conference. Each one has had a different theme that reflected the current state of sustainability. This year's theme is Empowering Sustainable Decisions. What does that say about where we are now and how will GRI empower conference attendees?

Front and center is the need for alignment with the Paris agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It is a massive undertaking for the public, private, and governmental sectors to interpret the requirements and to build actionable and measurable plans to support them.

We’ve lined up the most inspirational speakers for the conference. Our plan is to provide spaces and opportunities for attendees to work together and inspire one another. The freedom to share not only best practices but real and true challenges faced by each company will be the biggest benefit for all who attend.

At the end of the conference we - GRI - want to know if, after 20 years of sustainability reporting, we’ve made a difference.

Those interested in the conference who want to learn more about our speaker lineup or who would like to register can go to https://www.globalreporting.org/5th-gri-global-conference/Pages/default.aspx