The multiplier effect: how associations can shape sustainability
05 June 2012
​Photography: ZeRo`SKiLL (CC License)

​Associations play an instrumental role in disseminating the importance of sustainability and transparency to organizations worldwide. By sharing guidance, best practices and information with their members, and even by engaging in the development of reporting rules, associations are helping make a difference to the sustainability performance of thousands of companies.
​On 21 May, GRI and its global Conference partner MCI spoke with a group of associations and societies at the IMEX 2012 Conference about their role in making sustainability reporting standard practice. The conference delegates shared their views on sustainability, connecting it to environmental issues, the challenges facing the economy, and people – including talent retention.

Delegates identified many innovative approaches they and their members could adopt to face the world’s current sustainability challenges. From new ways of approaching income creation to protecting the world’s resources and educating the next generation of business leaders, associations can inspire their members to move the sustainability agenda forward.

GRI works with many associations around the world. According to Mike Wallace, Director of GRI’s Focal Point USA, associations are vital to helping make sustainability and reporting an integrated part of business for companies. “Sustainability and transparency through reporting can have significant benefits for business, if implemented effectively. Since associations already provide support and guidance to their members, sustainability and reporting can be the latest valuable addition to every association’s value proposition.

“In the US we are working closely with a number of leading associations, such as the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and NAEM, an association for environmental managers. All have become GRI Organizational Stakeholders, demonstrating their support for GRI’s mission and promoting sustainability reporting to their members. The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) is also working with GRI to educate their members, boards of directors of some of the US’s largest corporations and non-profits.  Boards are increasingly being challenged on a range of sustainability related topics and the collaboration between NACD and GRI is resulting in hundreds of directors hearing directly from GRI and GRI reporters about the benefits of integrating sustainability into core business activities, as well as reporting on performance to the markets.”

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) requires its 22 member companies (which include most of the largest companies in the sector) to report in accordance with the GRI Guidelines. ICMM was part of the Working Group that developed GRI’s Mining and Metals Sector Supplement, which was released in 2010. According to ICMM Chair and BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers, “We have established a solid foundation for member accountability. All ICMM member companies, both new to the organization and existing members, must commit to ICMM’s 10 sustainable development principles and formally report their progress through independently verified reports.”

Guy Bigwood, Sustainability Director of Association Management and Consulting company MCI, comments that, “through sustainability initiatives many smart trade associations and societies are increasing the value they provide their members. Sustainability education initiatives, tools, guides, knowledge sharing events and recognition programs are just some of the new products and services that associations can implement. Aside from increasing member value, some of these are potential income generating opportunities.”

Other associations are also supporting their members in the reporting journey, for example by providing training. This month, GRI re-launches its training program for associations, chambers of commerce and multinationals – the Business Transparency Program. Multinationals like Puma are already part of the Program and their suppliers are experiencing the benefits. Chambers of commerce and associations are also getting involved, and GRI launched two new projects in early 2012.

More than 100 small companies in rural Spain started their sustainability reporting process this year, thanks to a new project launched in March. In the Sustainable Rural Management project, GRI has joined the efforts of Garrotxa Lider and ADRINOC, two NGOs based in Catalonia, Spain. The aim is to train and coach more than 100 small and medium-sized enterprises in rural Spain through their first sustainability reporting process.

Another project GRI started in 2012 is with the Catalan Chambers of Commerce, uniting small businesses in Catalonia with a commitment to sustainability and GRI reporting. The Transparencia project guides the suppliers of large companies in implementing sustainability reporting and management practices. 64 suppliers of 11 multinationals are participating. This number is set to rise; and to inspire other chambers of commerce, business associations and multinationals to embed sustainability among their suppliers and member companies.

Building sustainability reporting capacity in small businesses can still involve some impressive figures: companies in the Transparencia project add up to more than 71,000 workers and 27 billion Euros of turnover. Narcis Bosch, CEO of the General Council of Catalan Chambers of Commerce, explained why projects like this are relevant: “Chambers of Commerce should help businesses to be stronger and more competitive. They should provide SMEs with the opportunity to incorporate CSR as a tool for improvement. They should do so simply and clearly, with suitable tools – like GRI reporting.”

Mike Wallace added: “To reach all companies in the world and encourage them to be transparent about their sustainability performance, associations can work with organizations like GRI. By doing so, they can increase the value they offer their members, helping their organizations navigate today’s sustainability challenges.  In addition, active associations can be at the forefront of reporting if they engage with GRI in the G4 development process.  The next formal G4 Public Comment Period is about to open, giving active associations a unique opportunity to mobilize their member base and to actively engage in the future of sustainability reporting.”

For more information on how working with GRI can help your association, check out the IMEX 2012 conference presentation.