While some in the profession may question the long-term viability of audit-only accounting firms, proposed guidelines issued recently by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) may help make the vision more feasible. The GRI's guidelines for "triple-bottom-line reporting" would broaden financial reporting into a three-dimensional model for economic, social and environmental reporting. Each dimension of the model would contain information that is valuable to stakeholders and could be independently verified.
Numbers, Ratios and Explanations
Despite the convenient shorthand reference to bottom lines, many of the GRI indicators are multi-faceted, consisting of tables, ratios and qualitative descriptions of policies, procedures, and systems. Below are examples of indicators within each of the three dimensions:
- Economic performance indicators. Geographic breakdown of key markets, percent of contracts paid in accordance with agreed terms, and description of the organization's indirect economic impacts.
- Environmental performance indicators. Breakdown of energy sources used, (e.g., for electricity and heat), total water usage, breakdown of waste by type and destination, list of penalties paid for non-compliance with environmental laws and regulations, and description of policies and procedures to minimize adverse environmental impacts.
- Social performance indicators. Total workforce including temporary workers, percentage of employees represented by trade unions, schedule of average hours of training per year per employee for all major categories of employee, male/female ratios in upper management positions, and descriptions of policies and procedures to address such issues as human rights, product information and labeling, customer privacy, and political lobbying and contributions.
The GRI was formed in 1997 by a partnership of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES). Several hundred organizations have participated in working groups to help form the guidelines for triple-bottom-line reporting. These organizations include corporations, accounting firms, investors, labor organizations and other stakeholders.