Timothy J. Mohin is the Chief Executive of GRI, developer of the world’s most widely used sustainability reporting standards. A veteran in the field of corporate sustainability reporting, prior to his appointment as Chief Executive, Tim was Senior Director of Corporate Responsibility for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). He is also a former Chairman of the Board for the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and former member of the Conflict Free Sourcing Initiative’s steering committee. Previously, Tim founded and led Apple’s Supplier Responsibility program. He also led Intel’s environmental and sustainability functions. Tim started his career with the US government. With the Environmental Protection Agency, he led the development of the toxics provisions of the Clean Air Act Amendments. Later, Tim was senior legislative staff for the Chairman of Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Christopher P. Skroupa: Last year GRI launched the GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards. Can you tell us how it is different from the previous GRI Guidelines and what impact it will have on investors and issuers?
Timothy J. Mohin: The GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (GRI Standards) are a set of 36 interrelated standards, and are designed for flexibility to meet a range of sustainability reporting needs. Organizations can use the GRI Standards to report publicly about their impacts on the economy, environment and society, and hence their contributions — positive or negative — to sustainable development.
The GRI Standards are the first global standards for sustainability reporting. They establish a common language for the disclosure of non-financial (ESG) information. Unlike our previous guidelines, the GRI Standards are in a modular format, which means that individual topics or disclosures can be updated, without affecting the rest of the content. This means that going forward there will be no need to do whole-scale revisions of the entire reporting framework. This will lead to fewer disruptions for reporting organizations. The GRI Standards also come with clarifications to many concepts that companies found tricky. For instance, there is a bright line distinction between requirements, recommendations and guidance. As a result companies and their stakeholders will have an easier time knowing what they need to report and how they need to report it.
We believe that the creation of a global common language for ESG information will benefit both investors and issuers. Investors want standardized information on companies’ performance on these topics, which may not yet be financially material but could very well become so over the medium and longer terms. The sustainability reporting process is a risk and opportunity assessment mechanism and savvy investors place their capital with issuers that can demonstrate they are working to tackle risks before they impact the bottom line. Sustainability reporting also helps businesses identify opportunities for innovation.
Skroupa: You have worked in sustainability for a long time for a number of big companies. What new perspective or insight do you feel you will bring to GRI?
Mohin: I did indeed work in sustainability for more than 20 years at some of the largest tech companies in the world. At Intel, I led the company’s environmental and sustainability functions. At Apple, I founded and ran the Supplier Responsibility program and, prior to joining GRI, at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), I was Senior Director of Corporate Responsibility. In each of those positions, I was responsible for sustainability reporting. That’s the experience and perspective I bring to GRI.
I understand the realities of managing a sustainability reporting process from the initial stakeholder engagement and materiality analysis, to building the internal company connections and infrastructure needed to measure and monitor a company’s performance on its most important sustainability topics. I also know that the information in the actual report must be presented in a way that is accessible to the company’s most important internal and external stakeholders. I have seen firsthand how sustainability reporting can be powerful force for good, helping companies reduce their negative impacts on the environment, workers, consumers and local communities, while becoming more efficient and saving money in the process. But I also know that if we are going to address our most pressing challenges, like climate change, human rights abuses, corruption and poverty, sustainability reporting needs to evolve. In my new role as GRI’s Chief Executive, I want to help lead this evolution. In order to be properly useful for decision making by investors, company management, consumers and other stakeholders, reporting needs to become more concise, consistent comparable and current.
Skroupa: You are currently working with the UN Global Compact to develop a new SDG framework, can you tell us about that?
Mohin: Two years ago the 193 UN member countries unanimously agreed on an ambitious set of 17 goals (with 169 targets) covering the world’s most important sustainability issues like ending poverty, hunger, and gender inequality. These are ambitious goals that the world’s countries have agreed to achieve by the year 2030, a little more than 4,500 days away from now. We know that the private sector must play a significant role in helping to achieve these goals because, in the age of globalization, companies can have an outsized influence on our planet’s resources and affect the lives of nearly all of us. Some companies have revenues larger than the gross domestic product (GDPs) of some countries and supply chains that stretch across the entire world. So companies have the power and the responsibility to make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality, but companies don’t have the tools they need to identify and measure their contributions to the achievement of the goals. GRI and the UN Global Compact have partnered to address this problem. The Reporting on the SDGs Action Platform is a groundbreaking effort to develop the means for businesses to measure, manage and communicate their contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Skroupa: With the fragmentation of the market for various organizations providing different sustainability reporting methods, what is your belief in regards to the perceived competition?
Mohin: This is one of the questions I have received most often since joining GRI back in January. The “competition between sustainability reporting methods” narrative is a popular one within the sustainability media. Stories about conflict are common in the media because frankly stories about collaboration and organizations working together are not that interesting. The reality though is that GRI works together with almost all other players in this field. We have longstanding collaborations with the UN Global Compact, IIRC, CDP, and ISO to name only a few.
We have also broken new ground in collaboration with SASB and are working on next steps to align our standards. So when you take a look behind the scenes, the competition narrative falls apart, but this does not mean that the fragmentation is imagined. It is real. There is genuine confusion in the market about how the various reporting frameworks are related to one another and their respective value propositions. It is incumbent upon all sustainability reporting organizations to communicate clearly about how and why companies should use their products. Dispelling this notion that we are competing with one another and promoting harmonization among frameworks is one of my top priorities.
Skroupa: Given your impact on global markets, what do you see in the future of GRI?
Mohin: I am currently in the process of finalizing strategic plans with the GRI Board of Directors so it is a bit premature to say too much. What I can say is that the harmonization efforts between reporting frameworks is an important focus area for me. I want GRI to work to help companies and their stakeholders get more out of the investment in sustainability reporting. We need to work with investors to make sure that they are receiving decision-useful information from sustainability reports. To be clear, investors are not the only audience for sustainability data and I am not suggesting that the practice should be reduced to only the issues and concerns of investors. Still, we cannot deny the reality that investors have tremendous power to influence corporate behavior. So it is in the interest of all stakeholders that we work to make sure that investors are actually using sustainability data. Finally, GRI will continue working to help build capacity to evaluate and report on sustainability impacts around the world. We need to engage with small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) to help them report on their sustainability impacts, as they are responsible for around 90% of global economic activity. To that end we are currently pilot testing an application of GRI Standards for SMEs in Colombia, Ghana, Indonesia, Peru, South Africa and Vietnam. Once we have completed the pilot phase we plan to make this tool available to everyone.