Future Trends in Sustainability Reporting
02 February 2017

​GRI and international think tank and strategic advisory firm SustainAbility have published the latest insights from the GRI Corporate Leadership Group on Reporting 2025 which explored four key trends fundamental to the UN Sustainable Development Goals: climate change, human rights, wealth inequality, and data and technology. 
The insights, captured in the report Future Trends in Sustainability Reporting provide practical guidance to reporting organizations working to respond to the risks and opportunities that we face on our path to a sustainable future. 

“The CLG Reporting 2025 was a dynamic group of thirteen forward looking companies motivated to uncover and understand emerging trends and improve disclosures,” said Eric Hespenheide, former GRI Interim Chief Executive. “The group engaged during meetings throughout the year, including with leading experts and stakeholder representatives, and shared their own experiences of reporting. The discussion about future reporting trends is vital to ensure that sustainability reporting has the most positive impact possible on sustainable development.” 

The publication presents key information on each sustainability trend. Highlights from the report include:

Climate change: There was clear consensus in the group that it is not a matter of if business should or can act on climate change but how, and how fast they deliver change. Companies are solution providers: they are expected to be part of the solutions, from new energy models to efficiencies in the production and distribution of goods. Furthermore, clear and ambitious science-based targets are needed, and greater company and country engagement is expected following the Paris Agreement, with businesses expected to link to Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

Human rights: Expectations of corporate reporting on the many facets of human rights are growing: human rights due diligence is now the expected minimum. Investors, rating agencies and regulators are increasingly seeking this information. Key human rights issues set to receive greater focus include labor rights and issues linked to natural resources. The group highlighted that modern slavery is a new form of severe labor abuse and is leading to a broader movement from a focus on audit and compliance to due diligence and collaboration. Conflict over natural resource wealth is also becoming a more recognized issue with land rights increasingly disputed. 

Wealth inequality: Various challenges for business related to wealth inequality were discussed, including radically increasing the share of value captured by workers and small-scale producers - for instance, achieving living wages for laborers and living incomes for small-scale producers. Eliminating economic gender inequality and gender discrimination is also becoming a key issue, as is tackling the race-to-the-bottom on public governance to attract investment. Calls to end the era of tax havens are increasingly expected, and breaking market concentration and addressing the unequal distribution of power will become imperative.

Data and Technology: When it comes to corporate reporting, data and technology are often seen as an opportunity and a challenge in equal measure. Challenges include securing sufficient internal buy-in; promoting the culture and creating awareness for good use of the internal systems that deliver high-quality, comparable data; lack of availability of sensitive and confidential data; and a need for more analytical tools to better understand data. Opportunities include online reporting; embedding sustainability data into targets and performance management systems; monitoring and providing feedback loops to data providers; and better understanding the dynamics and other demands on the data to improve the information channels and lower the burden for colleagues.

“SustainAbility is delighted to have partnered with GRI to deliver the Corporate Leadership Group (CLG) on Reporting 2025,” said Rob Cameron, Chief Executive, SustainAbility. “Corporate transparency and sustainability reporting are fundamental to the transition to a sustainable economy – allowing stakeholders to hold companies to account for poor performance, and to direct capital towards companies that are providing the innovation, solutions and scale of action needed to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We hope that the lessons we have learned will help more companies to make measurable and transparent progress in these critical areas.”