They are here! In his second report from the GRI conference, Ethical Corporation columnist Peter Knight comments on the much heralded and now-announced G4 reporting guidelines

The focus of the new set of GRI guidelines, G4, is on materiality and impacts (good, bad and ugly), and where the effects occur.

After two days at the GRI conference in Amsterdam, that’s the big reveal.

The good news is that three companies most closely associated with the GRI – Enel (Italian power), Shell and GE – say that G4 is better than its predecessors. That’s not saying a lot, but it is positive.

The bad news is that G4 is as byzantine as previous guidelines. The GRI itself remains as arrogant and self-congratulatory as it has ever been – humble is not a word understood in Amsterdam.

More worrying is the general disregard for the customer – the corporation – and an obsession with the machinations of the UN system. Civil Society can be a very uncivil place.

Organised labour – by far the most articulate and entertaining at the conference – has been successful in inserting its ideas in the guidelines, especially in the supply chain chapter. This will cause most US companies severe indigestion.

US traction

Some commentators have argued that the GRI is driving itself to irrelevance. I thought this when it first started, but I was wrong. The guidelines have gained considerable traction in the most unlikely place – the US.

It appears that many in business love a process, especially one that creates complexity, mystery and the demand for specialist advice.

G4 continues the tradition with the disingenuous promise that reporting should be easier now. The inability of the GRI functionaries to describe the new guidelines in simple terms demonstrates clearly that the disclosure demands are just as obtuse as they ever were. Visibility remains poor.

Our previous posting outlines some of the critical issues raised by G4 and describes its 4-step process. GRI has now published the guidelines with a guide on how to use them. The latter includes a glossary – essential if you are to understand what is meant by “sustainability context”, “boundaries”, and “materiality”.

Get these documents here and mark out a good block of time to read them. Understanding them will take much longer.

One of the more alarming statements at the launch of G4 was a call to start working on G5.

Make mine a Heineken.

Peter Knight is the co-founder and chairman of Context Group. This posting first appeared on Context’s blog.

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