A review:

The GRI Sustainability Professional Certification

Recently I became a certified GRI Sustainability Professional. The certification is awarded by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), an international organization that develops the leading sustainability reporting standard: GRI. Globally, more than 10,000 companies report their sustainability performance via the GRI Standards. When I decided to pivot my career into corporate sustainability, I knew I’d have to wade into the alphabet soup that is sustainability reporting. Due to their ubiquity, I felt that the GRI Standards were a good place to start. Not many reviews of the certificate program are available, so I thought it would be helpful to write my own. 

What is the GRI?

The GRI Standards are a set of guidelines for sustainability reporting. The GRI Standards are a flexible framework that organizations of all sizes and from all sectors can use. They are also widely accepted, which means that they are recognized by investors, regulators and other stakeholders.

What makes it different from other frameworks?

The GRI Standards are broad and meant to cover a wide range of business impacts on the environment, economy and people. For instance, the GRI Sustainability Professional coursework includes a module on integrating the UN Sustainable Development Goals into sustainability reports. Other reporting frameworks such as SASB and TCFD mainly revolve around financial disclosures and are meant for an audience of investors. It’s worth noting that GRI works with these and other organizations to ensure their standards are interoperable. 

How to earn the GRI certification

The Global Reporting Initiative runs the GRI Sustainability Professional Certification program, which educates professionals and certifies that they have a working expertise in the GRI Standards. The program is delivered in two flexible learning routes: online self-paced (Route A) or blended (Route B). Route A includes 16 hours of content that you can complete at your own pace. Route B is a blended program that includes online learning modules and instructor-led workshops.

I completed Route A over the summer. The course comprised four modules:

  1. Introduction to Sustainability Reporting and the GRI Standards
  2. Reporting with the GRI Standards
  3. Reporting on Human Rights with the GRI Standards
  4. Integrating the SDGs into Sustainability Reporting

Overall, I enjoyed the material and felt it was very relevant to the discussions I’ve been having in my summer internship and coffee chats with other sustainability professionals—especially the human rights module. You can do the coursework on a mobile app, which came in handy as I traveled throughout the summer. 

The exam is 40 questions, with a 60-minute limit, taken through virtual proctoring software. The questions aren’t too difficult, but they are specific. The best way to study is to review GRI Foundations, paying close attention to the procedures and definitions outlined. A handful of free resources, such as flash cards and a 10-question mock exam, is available online, but the most helpful activity was reviewing the in-module quizzes. I also found Rohit Reddy Anugu’s blog about his exam experience helpful in directing my study focus. 

Is GRI certification valuable for MBA students?

ESG is a hot topic in business. And while it has received backlash, more and more companies are realizing that they need to take steps to disclose their sustainability performance. And soon, many companies around the globe will be required to report climate-related impacts, as governments begin to mandate disclosures, such as the SEC’s impending emissions reporting rule and the European Union’s recently released CSRD. As a result, there is a growing demand for sustainability professionals who can help businesses meet these challenges. Because of the widespread adoption of the GRI Standards and their interoperability with other frameworks, I believe certification is a great first step into the world of ESG.