The Greenest Event of Them All, Part 8: External Reporting and Indicators


GHG, GRI, ISO 14000 and 26000…With all the social and environmental reporting going on these days, how can events choose an appropriate tool to track and report results? The easy answer isn’t the way out – yes, all these environmental indicators are currently optional so you don’t NEED to report any – because you are already looking to set a higher standard and hold your event accountable for achieving positive results. And importantly, successfully implementing almost all of these standards now requires independent, third party accreditation, which greatly enhances the validity of your environmental program.

Let’s start with the basics. First you’ll remember the 9000-series quality management (six sigma) standards from the ISO (International Standard Organization) in the 1980s. More recently, the ISO extended its standards to include ENVIRONMENTAL management standards, the ISO 14000-series. Now, coming into effect in 2010, the ISO’s 26000 standards will provide SOCIAL (CSR) reporting standards.

The 14000 series of standards do not dictate what exact environmental indicators you must report but rather states processes you must have in place. For example, ISO 14001 and 14004 ask if there are adequate environmental management systems in place, 14015 governs environmental assessment(s) of the site area, 14040 covers Lifecycle Assessments (LCAs), and 14062, 14063 cover your environmental communication processes. Any one of these can be accredited by a third party.

The future 26000 guidelines will be similar to the 14000 series in that they will not dictate specific measurements or indicators, but rather ensure a system is in place to measure Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). However, the 26000-series scope is much broader, since it covers not just environmental but equality and economic management, and they WILL NOT be accredited. That is, a company can use 26000 guidelines, but can never say they are “ISO 26000 certified” as they can for other ISO standards. Likely because of the extremely broad scope of the 26000, the ISO decided not to limit their applicability by any means, leaving the implementation entirely voluntary.

The ISO guidelines are inherently compatible with GRI and GHG protocol standards. As mentioned before, ISO provides assurance that the correct SYSTEMS are in place; GRI and GHG specify what exactly should be tracked and monitored.

The GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), developed in the 1990s, provides indicators for “sustainability” reporting, and covers environmental and social guidelines within an “ecological footprint”. The GRI indicators thus have a scope similar to the ISO 26000 guidelines, although the GRI focuses more in specific indicators rather than the reporting and management processes.

Lastly, the GHG Protocol is also compatible with ISO guidelines. Like the GRI, the GHG Protocol provides specific indicators for reporting, although unlike the GRI, the scope is limited to environmental greenhouse gas (GHG) indicators.

Since both GRI and GHG have specific indicators for environmental performance, and some companies use both, here the complication arises. The difficulty is aligning GHG definitions with their GRI equivalents, especially on carbon emissions. This is frustrating since tracking and reporting carbon (here I consider all carbon or carbon equivalents as CO2) has become the “big kahuna” indicator to report in recent years.

While this discussion can proceed much longer, I provided a brief chart (below) to compare the GHG and GRI indicators for carbon and energy emissions. Next week, we’ll cover in more detail how to align these reporting processes internally in your organization.