The study, Applying Global Reporting Initiative Guidelines for Effective Reporting: A Review of Global Media Companies’ CSR Reports, analyzed how 54 companies within the media sector reported corporate sustainability according to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Details of the study were released April 23 during a presentation at the LEED Platinum Hearst Tower in New York City.
GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) is a not-for-profit, network-based organization that promotes the use of standardized sustainability reporting as a way for organizations to become more socially responsible and contribute to a sustainable global economy.
Below are some of the research highlights:
- Of the 54 media companies reporting sustainability, 28 (51.9%) said they did not follow GRI guidelines;
- 18 of the 26 companies (69.2%) reporting GRI conformance without independent third-party assurance failed to adequately apply the GRI Guidelines;
- 8 out of 9 of the independently assured reports (88.9%) reported GRI conformance, but failed to adequately apply the GRI Guidelines, (primarily excluded the GRI index within the report);
- Bloomberg’s 88.5% GRI reporting scored highest among all media companies analyzed;
- Media companies reporting to GRI guidelines averaged 56.4% conformance; as expected, media companies not reporting to GRI guidelines averaged 24.8%.
The list of Top 10 Media sector companies for GRI reporting included: Bloomberg (US), Grupo Antena 3 (Spain), Publicis Group (France), Axel Springer (Germany), Mediaset (Spain), Media Prima (Malaysia), TC Transcontinental (Canada), Reed Elsevier (UK) and Lagardiere (France).
While the numbers of those media brands reporting sustainability is off to a slow start, this is an initiative that will continue to gain momentum in the coming years, according to Richard Willingham, President of motum B2B and Chairman of the BPA Board, who introduced the study.
"Within the media sector specifically, sustainability is now being pushed down the supply chain by the brands that media owners rely on for revenues," Willingham said. "One of the outcomes of this increased demand for sustainability information is an increased number of sustainability reports being issued by media companies. It’s not surprising when media companies issue sustainability reports, they do so looking for a common framework to use and adopt the GRI, which, just last year, introduced a Media Sector Supplement providing additional reporting guidance to the industry on what indicators would provide stakeholders with needed information unique to this business."
GRI has designated 15 sector supplements across various vertical markets that offer additional industry-specific indicators that increase the comparability of reports within individual sectors. The media sector includes media owners, advertising and public relations agencies, news agencies, content providers, and cable operators among others.
The BPA/IRAS research went a step further and compared media companies’ sustainability reporting to similar efforts from Fortune 100 companies headquartered in the US. The top 10 in GRI compliance included: Dow Chemical, Johnson Controls, UPS, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, IBM, Hess, Dupont, Dell and General Motors, all U.S.-based companies.
But while the U.S.-based media companies may be slow in adopting the reporting initiative, U.S. companies on the whole are still well behind the world’s leaders. In fact, only 231 (4.7%) of the 4,916 publicly registered companies in the U.S. (registered with NYSE or NASDAQ) provided any sort of GRI-based report in 2012. The Netherlands, for example, claims 61.2% of all companies issue GRI-based reports. According to Michael Rea, President of IRAS, who presented the details of the report, "The U.S. has a very, very long way to go" when it comes to GRI reporting, he said.
"Right now, media companies are flying under the radar," Willingham noted. "The big question has yet to have been asked of them to confirm that their corporate performance complies with sustainability."
But that time is not far in the future, he added.
"The proliferation of sustainability standards should come as no surprise in a world where trust is in short supply across all sectors of society and political opinion," Willingham concluded. "Extra due diligence is the new normal."