72% of S&P 500 companies published Sustainability or Corporate Social Responsibility reports in 2014. This reflects a growing trend of corporations being held accountable by shareholders and stakeholders alike to demonstrate social, environmental, and fiscal responsibility. Cannon Inc. is a 79 year-old Japanese company best known in the United States for their cameras and various other optical products. They have a reputation of commitment to environmental disclosure, ranking first in a 2007 survey of 56 climate-friendly companies. This tradition is continued in Cannon’s 2016 Sustainability report, which utilizes the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) G4 guidelines for creating their report.
The GRI developed as a framework by which the public could compare and evaluate content within sustainability reports. It was founded in 1997 by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) and the Tellus Institute. With over 4000 organizations in 60 countries formally disclosing their results, the Global Reporting Initiative is regarded as a staple of international sustainability reporting. Their mission is to enable organizations to develop the standard practice of disclosing their sustainability pursuits in the same way that publicly traded companies disclose financial statements. Their most recent set of reporting standards is the "G4" which effectively replaced the “G3.1” on December 31st, 2015. Canon utilized the G3.1 framework for their 2015 report and the G4 for their 2016 report. According to the Global Reporting Initiative’s website: “G4 is designed to be universally applicable to all organizations of all types and sectors, large and small, across the world”.
These guidelines offer a standardized set of instructions for disclosing information on different sustainability topics. For example, in Canon’s recent sustainability report they have specific standards for disclosing their water usage. They refer to specific water use guidelines, (GR4-EN8, GR4-EN9, and GR4-EN10), for instructions on disclosure. Page 133 of Canon’s 2016 report contains an appendix with each of the G4 focus areas, including their water criteria and where to find them within the report (GR4-EN8 on p. 54 and p. 70 etc.) Given that large corporation’s reports are often quite lengthy, such appendices are useful for identifying specific G4 economic, environmental, and social criteria within a report. The guidelines and implementation manual for G4 standards are available for downloading from the GRI’s website.
An important distinction of the new G4 guidelines occurred regarding third-party verification. Organizations who wish to be “in accordance” with the G4 do not need to undergo an audit by a certified third party. The GRI website states:
“GRI continues to recommend external assurance of sustainability reports, but it is not required to be “in accordance” with the G4 Guidelines. GRI does not recommend any specific assurance provider but provides characteristics to be considered when choosing an assurance provider” (Global Reporting Initiative G4 FAQ).
Even though it is not required, Canon still consulted a third party and published his outside opinion on their reporting process within the report. The third party, Dr. Geibler, reviewed their approach and you can read his opinion on their report on p. 136.