The GRI reporting framework is changing. What do you need to know?

GRI-1.jpgTo keep up with global trends and challenges, GRI continually refines its guidelines, employing a multi-stakeholder approach to ensure that the reporting tool aligns the current needs of companies with the needs of society to better support meaningful change through corporate action. This year, GRI is transitioning G4—its most comprehensive and up-to-date reporting framework—from guidelines to standards, and has proposed three Universal Standards, as well as 35 Topic-Specific Standards. The organization is in the process of receiving feedback from global stakeholders on its draft Standards, having released them in April.

The transition from the most recent GRI G4 guidelines to a GRI Standard will involve changes to a modular format and presentation, but most of the content, concepts, and disclosures will remain. For those familiar with the past GRI guidelines, the simplest way to explain the change is that each individual GRI “aspect” will now become a unique “standard.”  While the stakeholder consultation process is open through September of 2016, reporters can start preparing now for
anticipated changes.

Why transition to Standards?

GRI is transitioning to Standards to minimize future disruptions, accommodate new topics, increase accessibility to GRI, and further contribute to policy initiatives. In the past, if changes were made to one part of the framework, a new version was issued. The standards approach will now allow individual topics to be adjusted, with approximately a quarter of all topics reviewed annually. This approach will allow more flexibility to account for changes in industry and stakeholder priorities, as well as the emergence of new environmental, social, and governance (ESG) topics. The modular approach will also allow corporate reporters to customize their reporting to account for the issues most material to their companies and provide easier access and greater clarity to nonprofits and government agencies.

Distinction between requirements, recommendations, and guidance

In previous versions of GRI, it was not always easy to discern what information a company must report and what was a nice to have. That will be changing. The GRI Standard has clearly identified required, recommended, and guidance disclosures and standardized distinction language. Specifically:

  • Requirements: denoted using ‘shall’—are mandatory instructions
  • Recommendations: denoted using ‘should’—are not mandatory but advised
  • Guidance: denoted by a shaded background—are not mandatory, but are offered to help reporters understand and apply requirements

Changes in GRI-Specific Language

Specific language used in the GRI is also changing to be more clear and concise. A breakdown of language changes from GRI G4 to GRI Standard is highlighted below:

GRI G4 Terminology

New GRI Standards Terminology



General Standard Disclosures

General Disclosures




Management Approach


Learn more about reporting

The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship is an active participant in the corporate citizenship reporting space, participating in the Sustainability and Reporting 2025 discussion and providing feedback on the transition to GRI Standards.  

If you are interested in learning more or receiving your GRI Certificate, then attend our course, GRI/G4 Reporting: Certified Sustainability Reporting Workshop. If you are creating a broader ESG reporting strategy, then join us for Corporate Citizenship Frameworks: Reporting and Indices