Interview with Marco van der Ree, GRI

Marco van der Ree, Chief Development Officer at the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) talked to me about how the pandemic has influenced his beliefs and behaviours.

‘It created a global sabbatical – a time to rethink’

The Covid pandemic made us stop the way we used to behave for 18 months. I don’t want to overlook the loss and sadness it caused, but it created a global sabbatical – a time to rethink for the world.

There’s been a significant behavioural shift amongst individuals. Before the pandemic my work took me to many places, like the Amazon in 2019. The pandemic made me appreciate the biodiversity and the bees in my own garden.

Many people have re-evaluated their beliefs. And while not everyone will act, hopefully enough people will make changes to their personal lives; the way they work, engage with society, consume and invest their pensions.

Importantly, it’s very often this pressure from consumers that will force businesses to change.

‘Collaboration is much faster now’

Working from home has changed work life completely. It’s been amazing to see how fast people adapted and continued to work very productively via Zoom or Teams.

It’s become much easier to work collaboratively globally. And has given me new opportunities. That’s the big learning and a big advantage.

Collaboration is much faster now. And it’s better for the environment too. My CO2 footprint has gone down dramatically.

‘I miss the serendipity of meeting people’

The intimacy we can achieve in online conversations has increased a lot. You can get into really deep discussions.

And as a fundraiser that’s a big part of my work. It no longer requires a face-to-face meeting to build trust. I’ve been able to bring in money from organizations that I’ve never worked with, without ever meeting them.

Although I miss the serendipity of meeting people – we need to find ways to re-create this online.

‘There’s much better information exchange’

A real advantage is that we can have a conference here in the Netherlands, with people attending from all over the world.

Before, conferences were restricted to the people that could travel. Now, there’s enough places for anyone to attend events worldwide on many different topics.

There’s much better information exchange and it’s easier to interact with many different types of people and organizations.

Earlier this year I was speaking at a conference in Asia in the morning and another in Brazil in the evening.

‘Companies are being held more accountable’

All over the world, businesses are becoming more transparent about what they do and what their impact is.

Awareness of the need for sustainability standards has become much greater. The Covid crisis is tiny in comparison to what’s to come with the climate, biodiversity and sustainability crises.

Businesses increasingly recognize that they must become part of the sustainability transformation. They are being held more accountable by consumers, pension funds, insurers, governments and organizations like the EU.

For example, recently two pension funds in the Netherlands decided to completely divest out of all fossil fuel investments. These are really significant changes in the financial sector.

‘It’s the biggest change since Rio 1992’

You can also see it through the European Green Deal and proposed mandatory reporting standards across Europe. It’s probably the biggest game-hanger since Rio 1992.

The connection between government, business, institutions, civil society and pressure groups is starting to gain speed.

I believe, at least I hope, that we’ve passed a point of no return for the sustainability transformation – as this is our last chance to do this. But remember that not all businesses can change immediately. They are often held back by their supply chains and existing assets.

‘We are not ambitious enough’

From a mission perspective for GRI, the expected mandatory European Sustainability Reporting Standards with the CSRD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) is a huge step forward.

If more companies use the GRI standards this will align them with where the European Union will get to and run with.

The risk is that sustainability reporting will be too narrowly interpreted – as only being important from a financial materiality perspective. It’s really about the impact businesses have on the planet and people, and how they deal with that. The EU and GRI call this double materiality.

Greta Thunberg is right, we are not ambitious enough – we need to move faster. After all, as I often say – there is no business on a dead planet.

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