Interview with newly appointed Deputy Director, GRI Standards Division
13 January 2016

​Developing GRI Standards following a Due Process Protocol and multi-stakeholder process continues to be a key focus of the GRI Standards Division. As we begin the transition from sustainability reporting guidelines to Sustainability Reporting Standards, the Standards Division at GRI is expanding.
Here we interview newly appointed Deputy Director, Chelsea Reinhardt to get her views on sustainability and the challenges facing organizations in becoming more transparent.
 
What drew you to the sustainability field and what are your career highlights so far?
I first became interested in sustainability when I was working as a Supply Chain Analyst for Williams Sonoma, which owns a number of home decorating brands such as Pottery Barn and West Elm. I was amazed at how much energy and materials were required to get our high-end home products to consumers, who often thought they were making an ‘eco-friendly’ choice. I knew there was great potential to save resources (and money!) by doing things differently. I was also very inspired by reading William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s book, ‘Cradle to Cradle,’ which made me realize that true sustainability will require a paradigm shift in how we look at products versus services. 

Some of my career highlights so far include working with senior management staff at Microsoft to develop and implement a carbon reduction strategy, helping Lloyds Bank to quantify the impacts of their community investment programs, and leading a full standard review for the Marine Stewardship Council’s supply chain standards.
 
What do you anticipate will be the most challenging aspects of the role as Deputy Director, Standards Division at GRI?
As with any standard-setting role, I expect we’ll face challenges in navigating sometimes conflicting feedback from different stakeholder groups. This is inevitable in working for a stakeholder-driven organization, but it can be difficult to balance this diverse feedback with our ultimate objective to produce a clear and high-quality Standard. To mitigate these risks, we’ll need to ask very clear questions of our stakeholders, and ensure we have a transparent consultation process.
 
What are the biggest challenges organizations face in implementing a sustainability strategy?
This depends a great deal on the specific organization, but in general I’d say many organizations tend to adopt a reactive sustainability strategy – based on opportunities that present themselves – rather than a proactive strategy driven by their specific material issues. For example, a company might invest in a green energy program because they were approached by their energy provider with a good partnership opportunity, even though their greatest sustainability impacts (and therefore opportunity) relates to their labor practices.
 
Sustainability reporting is becoming well established among the big multinationals. How important is the role of SMEs in securing a more sustainable world?
Although individual SME’s may have a relatively modest footprint, they represent the vast majority of all businesses globally, and their cumulative impact on the world is significant. For example, in the UK, over 99% of private sector businesses are SME’s, and together they account for almost half of all private sector turnover.

Therefore, SMEs collectively have a critical role to play in enabling sustainable development, and part of this will require more transparency – and hopefully yes, more sustainability reporting as well.
 
You have extensive experience in supply chain management. What are the major challenges in supply chain transparency and engagement in sustainability reporting?
One of the biggest challenges in this area relates to the dynamic and complex nature of many global supply chains. I’ve worked with major international corporations that still don’t have accurate information on their supply chains because suppliers are unofficially outsourcing production work, or operating from ‘sister’ companies overseas. For suppliers, this is often the only way to survive in a competitive marketplace with tight margins and rising costs. However, for companies, it means the official supply chain in some cases can look quite different from their ‘real’ supply chain, which makes it hard to accurately quantify and manage impacts.
 
Could you share some of your own individual goals for 2016?
On the list for my personal goals in 2016 is to explore Amsterdam, spend more time cooking, and get back into some meditation or yoga practice … something that I’ve slipped on since we became parents last year.