The technical standards board of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is set to approve its updated biodiversity standard next week, Carol Adams told a side-event at COP28 this week.

Adams, who is chair of GRI’s global sustainability standards board (GSSB), said the updated standard “takes into account all the recent global initiatives and developments”.

Biodiversity disclosures were first included in the GRI guidelines in 2000. Initially, they consisted of four indicators: amount of land affected by the organisation; habitat changes due to operations; impacts on protected areas; and objectives, programmes and targets for protecting and restoring native ecosystems and species.

Key revisions were made over the years and, in 2016, the guidelines were turned into a biodiversity standard. However, no substantial changes were made to the biodiversity disclosures. 

In 2021, the GRI announced plans to revise the standard to ensure it represents international best practice. The work is set to be finalised and approved next week. 

Responsible Investor sat down with Elodie Chêne, senior standards manager at GRI, to discuss the process. Chêne said GRI wanted to determine “what is still relevant, what is out of date, what needs to be changed, and what is missing”.

Elodie Chêne, senior standards manager at GRI

A draft of the revised standard, published in 2022, featured significant updates. New proposed requirements included: reporting across the supply chain on the most significant impacts on biodiversity; the provision of specific information on the location of operational sites with the most significant impacts on biodiversity; disclosure on direct drivers of biodiversity loss; and reporting on impact on people resulting from an organisation’s impacts on biodiversity. 

A clear message for reporting companies in the new draft was that the standard will focus on the most significant impacts on biodiversity, rather than all.

“Identifying, measuring and reporting on all impacts on biodiversity may be challenging for many organisations, particularly those that have large and complex supply chains to account for,” said Chêne.

The consultation received more than 120 responses.

Chêne said corporates and other stakeholders flagged several challenges, “which isn’t surprising given the revisions were quite substantial and ambitious”.

These included: reporting on impacts in the supply chain; how to identify and prioritise impacts on biodiversity, particularly in complex supply chains; reporting on changes to state of biodiversity; and reporting on offsets, given concerns about being accused of greenwashing.

To address these concerns, Chêne said additional guidance on how to identify the most significant impacts, building on recent frameworks such as the Science Based Targets for Nature (SBTN) and Taskforce for Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), has been included in the standard. 

“We’ve reviewed the requirements to report on supply chain impacts and state of biodiversity to ease the reporting challenges while keeping in line with growing reporting expectations, including those set by the Global Biodiversity Framework,” she said.

“Additional disclosure on the credibility of biodiversity offsets is also included, so that information users can assess the organisation’s practice.”

Metric agnostic

There is a burgeoning – and at times heated – conversation in the biodiversity space surrounding what metrics to use to measure biodiversity.

Last week, for example, Bloomberg announced that it will integrate the Natural History Museum’s Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII) into its terminal and data offerings to create a biodiversity tool.

At the time, Nadia Humphreys, manager of global regulatory and climate solutions at Bloomberg LP, told RI: “When we did our exploration of what was missing in the space – ie being able to say exactly where companies are operating and the impact as a result of where they are operating, and what would give a complete offering to our clients – we thought the BII would be the best.”

Other metrics include mean species abundance, a measurement of the average abundance of native species in a delimited space relative to an undisturbed ecosystem. The metric, which is popular with French market participants, also has a range of 0-100 percent. 

In its final recommendations, the TNFD cited the lack of “widely accepted metrics” on biodiversity as a reason for omitting “state of nature” from its core global disclosure indicators. The topic is currently covered by a “placeholder indicator”.

Speaking on an RI webinar after the launch, TNFD executive director Tony Goldner said the initiative “didn’t feel it was our role to pick one [metric] over the other” and wanted to see “further innovation in this space”.

“There’s a whole universe of different indices being developed,” he said. “We acknowledge that they all exist, and we encourage people to use them … But fundamentally, we don’t think we’re ever going to get to a single metric that’s going to capture everything we’re looking for in relation to impact on nature.”

Goldner added that the TNFD would “continue to watch this space” and work on it with scientists and other partners. He also indicated that the initiative would provide additional guidance on metrics.

Similarly, Chêne said GRI will not prescribe particular metrics or methods when it comes to the requirement of companies to identify ecosystems they are affecting, and reporting on the condition and changes to the ecosystem. 

However, organisations do have to make clear what metric they are using and why. 

“It’s really dependent on the type of impact you have or the type of ecosystem you are operating in, and the metric conversation is evolving so there isn’t a consensus on one over another,” Chêne said.

Collaboration is key

As part of the process, GRI has engaged with other initiatives including the TNFD, SBTN, Partnership for Biodiversity Accounting Financials, CDP and World Benchmarking Alliance, as well as EFRAG. With the latter, GRI has worked as a co-creator of its ESRS E4 on biodiversity and ecosystems. 

“In a way, it has been challenging that we’re all developing at the same time,” Chêne said. “But I also think it’s been great in terms of the collaborations we’ve had. We all serve different purposes so we can’t be exactly aligned, but we need to complement each other where our scopes overlap.”

Chêne pointed to the TNFD leveraging the GRI standards on water and waste in its framework, and the fact that companies setting targets with SBTN will be able to use the GRI standard to report on how they set and implement the targets.

On the work and alignment with EFRAG, she said there has been a lot of exchange of information and dialogue, although there are some differences between the GRI standard and ESRS E4.

The EU standard has a wider scope, and will also have disclosure requirements on risks and opportunities. However, the impact disclosure requirements in the ESRS are closely aligned with the GRI standard.

“EFRAG started developing ESRS E4 a few months before us and they’ve finalised the standard before we have finished ours,” said Chêne. “But we slowed down our timing a little bit as we wanted to make sure that the first SBTN targets and final TNFD were out first so we could align with them.”

She looks forward to hearing whether and how the ISSB will be taking forward a nature project that was proposed in a recent consultation on its priorities for the coming two years “and how we can collaborate”. 

Nature positive

In the revision of its standard, GRI also discussed whether to address the term “nature positive”, an increasingly popular buzzword in the space. 

In the run-up to COP15, stakeholders called for the term to be codified in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to ensure consistency and avoid it becoming a vehicle for greenwashing or marketing ploys. 

However, although the goal of halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030 was in the final Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, “nature positive” as a term did not receive an official definition.   

“We discussed what to do with the term and whether it should be in the standard when we started working on the update, as it is a buzzword right now and companies are likely to be adopting nature positive type commitments or targets,” Chêne said.

“However, it’s such a new concept and we don’t have a clear definition of what it means. We are part of the discussions on it.”

She added that the GRI standard will require companies to report on their policies and commitment towards biodiversity, and the goals and targets they set to implement them.

“We will also provide guidance that says if a company has policies or commitments that are related to nature positive, they should explain how they implement this, but this is not a requirement of the standard.”  

Next steps

A spokesperson for GRI told RI that, once the biodiversity standard has been approved by the GSSB, the initiative will seek approval of its due process oversight committee. The final approval of the standard is scheduled mid-January, with release shortly after.

“A transition period, to be confirmed by the GSSB, will ensue to ensure sufficient time for organisations to incorporate the revised standard in their process and start collecting data relevant to the revised biodiversity disclosures,” said the spokesperson.