The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) provides a framework for companies to measure and report their economic, environmental, and social performance. At first glance, a formal framework may seem overkill for a small business. However, the core principles of the GRI can benefit small players as much, if not more, than a Fortune 500 company.
Measuring Beyond the Bottom Line
Revenue and profit are critical to your operation. If you don’t keep tabs on these numbers, your business won’t survive. The GRI is simply an extension of these metrics that allows you to measure the impact of your business on your environment and community (including your customers).
Most often, small businesses rely on a local clientele. Therefore the health of a community is a critical component to the long-term health of your business. Identifying key economic, social and environmental indicators will give you a more realistic assessment of how well your company is performing.
The GRI outlines ways to identify and prioritize your stakeholders in the boardroom and beyond. Reaching out to community groups can be an opportunity to educate, meet and support people you wouldn’t otherwise interact with turning them into potential customers and, even better, advocates. You are not going to make everyone happy as there will always be critics who can never be placated. But having a plan on how you intend to approach and engage with important groups is a critical part of your long-term business strategy.
Another advantage of the GRI is that it helps establish a baseline reading of your business, which is critical to knowing how you are performing year over year. The GRI provides a framework and technique that helps you decide what to measure and how and who should be responsible. Keeping careful records is important for any business. The GRI simply expands that critical analysis to other areas.
Level Playing Fields
Although, GRI reporting requires executive support, this does not mean that the indicators selected for reporting will be relegated to pet projects or as leverage against colleagues. Stakeholders must agree upon indicators at the beginning of any GRI project. Because GRI reporting is an iterative process, it also should reflect the core values and long-term aspirations of your organization.
What the end result looks like for a sustainable company is constantly evolving. There is no final solution – no silver bullet. As your business matures, the opportunities and issues you face will change – and so will the indicators you use to measure your impact. Today’s definition of a sustainable company will be very different 50 years from now.
Increasingly, customers are using social media to influence and drive change. There have been numerous articles about consumers using an organization’s corporate responsibility to influence their buying decisions. As a result, your customers may become more involved in your GRI process, demanding more transparency and the inclusion of other metrics. Having a vocal and involved customer base is a great asset to any company but having a strategy for engaging and addressing customer expectations is critical.
Any small business that undertakes this type of measurement rigor will realize the long-term benefits of understanding the business impact of their decisions from both a social and environmental perspective. In the short-term, you’ll be managing a better run business. In the long-term, you’ll be preparing your business for days when sustainability is a by-word for “good-business”.
Jennifer Roberts is a marketing and content strategist for Collective Intellect, a social media analytics company. She is a LEED AP, a student of sustainability and gets most excited talking about the intersection of technology and the triple bottom line. She consults and creates Web content for sustainable businesses. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband, two dogs and one mean cat. She can be contacted via twitter or by email at robertsjennifer<at>gmail<dot>com