Times: Feb. 12, 2004
By STEPHEN HESSE
When it comes to sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, the media
never tire of airing dirty laundry.
Unfortunately, this prevents serious coverage of truly
obscene stories, such as the everyday corporate
malfeasance that is undermining society's triple
bottom line of economic, environmental and social
Critics insist that growing corporate ownership of
media is to blame for editors and journalists stepping
lightly around issues that impact workers and
consumers. But media consumers are to blame as well,
for showing more interest in Janet and Michael Jackson
than in the environmental and human exploitation that
is compromising our planet.
The less we ask about how corporations extract
resources, treat their workers, and manipulate
governments, the easier it is for them to profit at
the expense of others. And as much as we say we are
concerned, most of us are still much too easily
seduced by corporate logos, airbrushed models and
Thankfully, times are changing. One by one,
corporations are exchanging the flimsy veneer of
multimillion-dollar PR campaigns and boilerplate
annual reports for responsible business practices and
comprehensive company reports that detail efforts to
become financially, environmentally and socially
For many corporations, guidance in drafting these
reports comes from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
secretariat in the Netherlands, which publishes
"Sustainability Reporting Guidelines." Here in Japan,
even more specialized help is available from the GRI
Japan Forum (GRI-FJ), which translates the GRI
guidelines into Japanese and provides ongoing support
and advice to organizations that are interested in
raising investor and consumer confidence.
The GRI began in 1997 as a project of the Coalition
for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) and
the United Nations Environment Programme, with the
goal of enhancing "the quality, rigor and utility of
sustainability reporting," according to Judy
Henderson, chair of the GRI board of directors,
writing in the "Preface to the Sustainability
GRI is intended to help businesses, NGOs, NPOs,
accounting bodies, investor groups and trade unions
"build a consensus around a set of reporting
guidelines with the aim of achieving worldwide
acceptance," Henderson explains.
However, the GRI guidelines are not rules, principles
or a code of conduct, nor are they performance
standards or a management system. Rather, they are a
framework for organizations to report on their
economic, environmental, and social performance.
The obvious question is why would any organization
want to report more than necessary? For most the
answer is easy: They wouldn't. But for organizations
committed to a long-term relationship with their
employees, investors and host communities,
sustainability reporting is an increasingly popular
way to prove that commitment.
"Sustainable development is both urgent and everyone's
business. GRI's vision is to create the conditions
whereby business, government and interest groups work
together to achieve sustainable development based on
accurate, relevant and shared information about how
their activities contribute to this goal," explains
the GRI Business Plan 2003-2005.
Here in Japan, the GRI Japan Forum was established in
November 2002 by Toshihiko Goto of the Environmental
Auditing Research Group in Japan. Goto believes that
greater corporate and organizational transparency is
essential for the creation of a truly sustainable
"GRI-FJ supports the work of GRI, but is an
independent organization and focuses on activities in
Japan," explains Hiroko Sugimoto, of the GRI-FJ office
in Tokyo. "GRI-FJ is encouraging Japanese
organizations to adopt the GRI sustainability
guidelines for their own environmental and
sutainability reports by holding seminars and
workshops on how to adopt and implement the
guidelines," she said.
"To achieve sustainability reporting and, in turn,
sustainability, the GRI guidelines ask organizations
to report on three key areas of activity, financial,
social and environmental. This is the triple bottom
line for sustainability," noted Sugimoto.
GRI and GRI-FJ encourage organizations to support the
work of their respective offices, but any group can
download the GRI Guidelines from the Internet and use
them for free. "We simply want as many companies,
NGOs, public-sector organizations and government
offices [as possible] to use these guidelines,"
About 400 organizations worldwide have already
notified the GRI secretariat that they are using the
guidelines, with the largest number (62) here in
Japan. In fact, more than 100 Japanese firms are using
the GRI Guidelines, in part or in total, according to
In Japan, supporting members of GRI-FJ include 33
corporations, 19 NGOs and Civil Society Organizations
(CSO), and 12 other groups and organizations.
Corporate members include Fuji Xerox, Nihon Tetra Pac,
Obayashi Construction, Shiseido Cosmetics and Ricoh.
According to Sugimoto, suppliers in particular are
coming under increased scrutiny in Japan.
"Supply-chain management is becoming a big concern, as
more and more companies are asking suppliers to submit
information on how resources are being extracted and
on labor being used," she said.
Of course, change must come from within if it is going
to be lasting and successful, but investor and
consumer demand is a primary impetus for change. Thus,
as more individuals and firms do their research before
they choose a product or organization, GRI
Sustainability Reporting is likely to become an
increasingly valuable driver of change.
And, as GRI users have found, committing to improved
performance across the triple bottom line is just
plain good for business. "If organizations take a more
careful look at what they are doing, then they will
see opportunities for positive, and profitable,
change," Sugimoto pointed out.
For more information on GRI-FJ and GRI, visit
www.gri-fj.org Contact Stephen Hesse at
The Japan Times: Feb. 12, 2004