Elevate your Sustainability Reports with the Top 5 CSR Guidelines and Standards

We are trying to tackle big challenges through CSR including climate change, world hunger, and lack of global education. In order to make significant progress towards our goals, the CSR community along with governmental bodies and non-profit organizations must work together through partnerships and integrated reporting.

Several standards and guidelines exist to guide CSR executives to report upon their impact upon the environment, community, and economy. As corporate groups utilize these standards, the global community will better understand their impact and assess our progress in achieving national and international goals.

This post highlights five standards and guidelines with the information you need to know in order to achieve recognition.

(1) Social Accountability International (SAI)

SAI is a non-profit organization based in New York City dedicated to promoting human and worker’s rights. Their multi-stakeholder approach to human rights involves companies, trade unions, NGOs, and government entities. In addition to developing the SA8000 standard, SAI offers training on supply chain management to CSR professionals.



The SA8000 is a voluntary standard utilized in over 3,000 factories in 66 countries and across 65 industrial sectors. Based upon the UN Declaration of Human Rights, International Labor Organization, United Nations, and national law, the SA8000 is a universal labor standard. This standard seeks to address human rights abuses not only within the corporation itself but also within its suppliers, sub-contractors, sub-suppliers, and home workers.

Requirements that compliant organizations must fulfill include:

  • No child labor practices
  • No force or compulsory labor
  • A safe and healthy workplace environment
  • The right to join trade unions
  • No discrimination
  • Dignity and respect for all workers
  • Appropriate working hours
  • Legal wages

SAI Corporate Members Include:

Eileen Fisher, HP, and VF Corporation

(2) Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI)

Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) in partnership with RobecoSAM, is an investment specialist focused on sustainability investing


Launched in 2009, the DJSI is a group of indices evaluating the sustainability of the largest 2500 companies listed on the Dow Jones Global Total Stock Market Index. In order to be listed on the DJSI, long-term economic, social, and environmental asset management plans are evaluated. Issues such as corporate governance, risk management, branding, climate change mitigation, supply chain standards, and labor practices are considered.

Criteria developed by RobecoSAM assess the economic, social, and environmental impacts of the corporations; this criteria is chosen based upon a Corporate Sustainability Assessment performed by RobecoSAM. Companies are evaluated based upon the data collected in the Corporate Sustainability Assessment, company documentation, media and stakeholder analysis, and personal communication with the company.

The criteria changes each year, and all DJSI companies must continue to advance and evolve as they are constantly evaluated throughout the year.

2014 DSJI Industry Leaders:

The new 2015 DJSI members will be announced September 10, 2015. Leaders from 2014 included: Abbot Laboratories, LG Electronics, and Sodexo.

(3) Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)

SASB is a non-profit organization which develops and disperses sustainability accounting standards. Their purpose is to provide industry-specific reporting standards to allow for company comparison and benchmarking.


SASB developed a Sustainable Industry Classification System which covers 10 sectors and over 80 industries. Sectors with standards thus far include: health care, financials, technology and communication, non-renewable resources, transportation, services, and resource transformation. KPIs are updated annually and are relevant to all publicly traded companies. Ultimately, SASB hopes that standards for sustainability reporting will become recognized by the SEC as a requirement.

Participating Companies:

The legal review process for participating companies is lengthy; therefore, significant time will pass before SASB standards will become incorporated within a firm’s 10K. However several companies mention SASB as a guideline used including Citigroup, Delta Airlines, and Owens Corning.


GRESB is an industry organization which evaluates the sustainability performance of public, private, and direct real estate portfolios.


Institutional investors utilize the GRESB standard to engage with their investments with the goal to improve the sustainability performance of their investment portfolio and the international property sector. The standard collects data surrounding: energy, GHG emissions, water and waste, sustainability risk assessments, performance improvement programs, and engagement with employees, tenants, suppliers, and the community. The GRESB standard aligns with the GRI, Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), and Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

The public may complete the GRESB survey which benchmarks their current sustainability performance and offers the opportunity to centralize ESG as a corporate priority. The annual survey covers topics including: management, policy and disclosure, risks and opportunities, monitoring environmental management systems, performance indicators (energy, GHG emissions, water & waste), building certifications, and stakeholder engagement. The environmental portion of the survey is most important, and actions are rewarded more than policies.

After the data is collected and analyzed, the total score is divided into two dimensions including: management and policy, how the company/fund manages sustainability and the actions adopted by the company/fund, and implementation and measurement, how the decision or plan is executed and measured.

Current GRESB Members:

CBRE, JLL, and Cushman & Wakefield

(5) Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is an international organization dedicated to educating businesses, governmental bodies, and other organizations on their impact upon society including climate change, human rights, and corruption.


The latest version of the GRI guidelines, G4, was launched in May 2013. As of 2015, 7500 organizations use GRI guidelines for sustainability reporting.

Within the GRI Guidelines, data is collected on the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of the company. Economic data includes economic performance, market presence, indirect economic impact, and procurement practices. Environmental impact includes materials, energy, biodiversity, and eight other elements. Social impact includes labor practices and decent work, human rights, society, and product responsibility.

The GRI guidelines are developed through an international multi-stakeholder process including professionals from business, labor, civil society, financial markets, auditors, and various other experts. These guidelines may be utilized internationally across sectors and organization’s sizes.

Companies Utilizing G4 Guidelines Include:

Danske Bank Group and Duke Energy

Complying with these standards and guidelines takes effort; however, if CSR professionals work collaboratively with their team, it will be much easier to compile the appropriate information. In addition to improving the chances of investment, utilizing the above standards will contribute to the standardization of sustainability- a benefit for all.