GRI Standards – 2016 vs 2021

GRI Standards 2016 vs 2021

Setting a New Global Benchmark for Sustainability Reporting

Revised or Updated GRI Standards

To keep up with changing conditions and environments, the Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB), an independent standards publishing body comprised of 15 expert members from different groups around the world, participate in the development process to support and reinforce the development of GRI standards. 

The Due Process Oversight Committee (DPOC), in accordance with its own procedures, must ensure that the GRI Standards standardization activities, in order to enhance public and stakeholder confidence that the standards are properly met standards for the common good.

The GRI Standards publish a new agenda every three years, all GSSB meetings and the documents discussed at those meetings, including the draft standards, are made public. through the GRI website and transparency is at the heart of the GSSB’s work. All of this helps ensure that the GRI Standards serve the public interest and can be applied by any organization worldwide.

For better understanding check out the blog post about the basics of Global Reporting Initiatives – GRI Standards.

2016 vs 2021 GRI Standards

GRI Standards 2016 – which will be soon known to be the older or previous version of reporting method, will retire this December 2022, it will be discontinue and the new updated version 2021 reporting method will be in effect from 1st of January 2023.

GRI Standards 2016 - model
GRI Standards 2016_ image by Author -
GRI Standard 2016 is grouped into 2 Categories:

Universal Standards (100 series),

Topic Standards : Divided into 3 categories  

  • Economic topics (200 series), 
  • Environmental (300 series), 
  • Social topics (400 series).
 In 2016, GRI transitioned from providing guidelines to setting the first global standards for sustainability reporting – the GRI Standards. The Standards continue to be updated and added to, including new Standards on Tax (2019) and Waste (2020), a major update to the Universal Standards (2021) and the continued roll-out of Sector Standards.
GRI Standards 2021 - new or updated standards _image by Author -
GRI Standards 2021 - new or updated standards _image by Author -
New GRI Standard 2021 is grouped into 3 Categories:

The GRI Standards are still a modular system of interconnected standards. They allow organizations to publicly report on the impact of their activities in a structured and transparent manner to stakeholders and other interested parties. With the addition of Sector Standards, the GRI Standards now include three sets:

1. GRI Universal Standards : 1, 2, 3  series, (Green cover)

2. GRI Sector Standards: Applicable according to the Industry (Brown cover)

3. GRI Topic Standards : Divided into 3 categories (Purple cover)

  • Economic topics , Environmental,  Social topics

1 . UNIVERSAL STANDARDS – The NEW Updated Universal Standards are identified by a green cover.

• GRI 1: Foundation 2021;

• GRI 2: General Disclosures 2021;

• GRI 3: Material Topics 2021

2. TOPIC STANDARDS – Sub divided into 3 parts ECONOMIC, ENVIONMENT & SOCIAL, is identified by Purple Cover.

There are 31 thematic standards after withdrawing three standards. The reason for the recall was that their content was discontinued or included in the revised universal standards. Thematic standard now has a Purple cover and a three-digit code. 

Thematic Standards are modified to allow reporting using the revised Universal Standards and the Sector Standards possible, but the information provided in the Topic Standard has not changed. As a result, the numbering and publication year of the Topic Standard remain the same as before the update (e.g. GRI 306: Waste 2020).

3. SECTOR STANDARDS – The Sector Standards are new part of the set, they are identifiable by a brown cover and a double-digit code number.

Newly Introduced Sector Standards aim to improve the Quality, Completeness and Consistency of organizations’ reporting. Industry standards aim to improve the quality, completeness and consistency of organizations’ reporting. They inform organizations on potentially important topics based on the most significant industry impacts on the economy, environment and people, including human impacts. 

An organization uses the Sector Standards that apply to its sectors when determining and reporting on their material topics. The Sector Standards point to the relevant disclosures in the Topic Standards for the organization to report. 

A Sector Standard may also list additional disclosures that are not in a Topic Standard, for example, where the disclosures from the Topic Standard do not provide sufficient information about the organization’s impacts concerning the topic. An organization selects the Topic Standards according to the list of material topics it has determined using GRI 3 and applicable Sector Standards.

Oil and Gas (GRI 11)  Coal (GRI 12),   Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fishing (GRI 13),  are the 1st sectors prioritized under the Sector Program based on their significant environmental, social and economic impacts, now been released and are available for public use. 

The revised Universal Standards

As per Global Reporting Initiative, the revised Universal Standards represent the most significant update since GRI transitioned from providing guidance to setting standards in 2016. The Universal Standards strengthen the very foundations of all reporting through GRI, delivering the highest level of transparency for organizational impacts on the economy, environment, and people. 

The forward-looking approach that underpinned the revision of the Universal Standards means organizations will be best positioned to use their GRI reporting to respond to emerging regulatory disclosure needs, such as the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive and the IFRS plans for enterprise value standards.

The user-friendly modular system enables all reporting organizations to apply the revised Universal Standards alongside the application of the adapted Topic Standards, and the new Sector Standards. For a detailed overview of how to navigate the new GRI Standards system.

Difference between Topic Standards (2016 - 2021)

All GRI Topic Standards are adapted to ensure consistency with the revised Universal Standards. The adaptations include:

• Updating the Introduction, Glossary, and Bibliography to align with the changes made to these sections in the Universal Standards.

• Updating revised terminology. For instance, ‘reporting requirements’ are now called ‘requirements’ and ‘Topic-specific disclosures’ are now ‘topic disclosures’.

• Removing references to concepts that no longer exist (such as ‘topic Boundary’).

• Updating references to the Universal Standards (titles, disclosures, and clauses).

• Applying the new GRI Standards template.

Changes to the Topic Standards focus only on those that are necessary to ensure there are no contradictions with the revised Universal Standards. The information to be reported remains the same. The Topic Standards are no longer organized into the 200 (Economic topics), 300 (Environmental topics), and 400 (Social topics) series.

How to use the Sector Standards?

Sectors share common activities impacting the economy, environment, and society. When an applicable Sector Standard is available, an organization reporting in accordance with the GRI Standards is required to use it. The organization uses the Sector Standard first when determining its material topics and again when determining what information to report for the material topics.

The organization needs to use the Sector Standard when determining its material topics, however Sector Standards are not intended to be a substitute for an organization’s own process of determining material topics. The organization is still required to determine material topics according to its own specific circumstances.

GRI 3: Material Topics 2021 provides step-by-step guidance on how to determine material topics. Once the organization has determined a topic included in the Sector Standard is material for them, the Standard also helps the organization identify disclosures to report information about that topic. Sector Standards point to the disclosures from the Topic Standards for the organization to report.

Structure for Reporting – GRI Sector Standard.

GRI Sector Standard - Structure for reporting including each topic -
GRI Sector Standard - Structure for reporting including each topic _image by Author

A Sector Standard may also list additional disclosures that are not in a Topic Standard, for example, where the disclosures from the Topic Standard do not provide sufficient information about the organization’s impacts. Where the disclosures listed in the Sector Standard do not provide sufficient information about the organization’s impacts, additional disclosures to report on a topic may also be used and listed. If the organization has determined any of the topics included in the Sector Standard as not material, the organization is required to list them in the GRI content index and explain why they are not material.

Under Sector Standards 40 to 45 sectors will be added in coming years.

Oil and Gas (GRI 11),  Coal (GRI 12),  Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fishing (GRI 13),  Now been released and are available for public use. 

The development of a Standard focused on the Mining Sector is currently underway which will be released in 2023 Q3.

Up coming development priorities: 


Mapping between Universal Standards 2021 vs 2016

GRI has guided with mappin between 2016 vs 2021 – kindly visit Resource centre to download the excel file.

GRI has also provided an E- learning Course –  Transitioning to the GRI Standards 2021 Update

This course presents the main differences between the GRI Universal Standards that were launched in 2016 and the revised Universal Standards of 2021. It also introduces the new Sector Standards and mentions the adaptations that were made to the Topic Standards. The course was prepared for seasoned sustainability professionals who are familiar with the GRI Standards, and its purpose is to give you a high-level overview of what has changed.

Learning Objectives:

  • Explain why the GRI Standards were revised and how responsible business concepts were embedded.
  • Summarize the main changes to the GRI Standards.
  • List the requirements to report in accordance with the GRI Standards 2021 Update.
  • Discuss the system of GRI Standards 2021 Update and explain the content and use of the Sector Standards.
  • Describe the new Guidance to determine an organization’s material topics. 


ESG Consultant / BD / Author @
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