Friday, June 16, 2017


If anything could force me out of too long a silence on this blog (apologies, I haven't been able to keep up the pace this year due to client work and other commitments) then it has to be the desire to express my appreciation for Ernst Ligteringen, whose passing yesterday has come as a total shock to family, friends and the entire sustainability reporting community. I dedicate this post to his memory and in appreciation of his contribution to making reporting real.

I'll take this summary of Ernst's accomplishments from the statement that GRI published today:

"Ernst joined GRI in 2002, and transitioned it from a project that was started under CERES, in Boston, US, into an independent international organization with a solid independent governance structure and system. He was instrumental in establishing GRI’s leadership position in sustainability reporting with a balanced focus on economic, environmental, social and human rights issues. Ernst developed the evolution of the sustainability reporting guidelines towards G3, then G4 and finally the GRI Standards. He introduced GRI’s organizational stakeholder program, which acquired more than 600 members in just a few years, and developed GRI’s training program with certified trainers on all continents."

While I never worked closely with Ernst, I met him many times at different events and meetings over the years. I will always recall when we shared a stage at the Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference in 2012 which I chaired. GRI at that time was right in the middle of the journey towards G4 which would be launched in May 2013. Ernst was obviously delighted with the process and referred to "good things cooking in the kitchen" through he wouldn't tell us exactly what. But he inspired us that day with the promise that GRI would continue to evolve the role of sustainability reporting and expand its relevance, and he did indeed fulfill that promise. In 2014, Ernst left GRI to continue his professional journey in other directions.

One of these directions was the support for innovations in sustainability and this included his work as a Strategic Advisor at Datamaran. Marjella Alma-Lecourt writes a moving tribute to the support Ernst provided to this growing company.

"He was passionate, well-spoken and credible – he was able to get anyone to listen to him, connect with people from any background and social status, and with that skill he was able to make significant moves in society and the global business community in particular. I started as an intern at GRI in 2007 – Ernst was my CEO – he was impressive and always traveling, I so looked up to him and still do. When we started eRevalue (now Datamaran), he got involved immediately and became a mentor like no other. I asked him how to be a CEO, and he started guiding me."

More than all of Ernst's professional leadership and accomplishments, he was a genuinely good man. As I knew him, he was always smiling, always positive, always ready to spread a little optimism. He even accepted my friendly provocations and occasional teasing in good spirit, with humility and readiness to engage. Ernst was the gentleman of sustainability reporting and a gentleman in our community. His passing comes as such a shock - it's 30 years too early.

Our comfort is that his legacy lives on in much of what all of us do every day. Ernst helped make business better and that affects us all. He personified determination, decency and positive spirit and that continues to inspire us all. I will remember him with respect, deep affection and always a smile.  

My heart goes out to Ernst's family. I wish them strength to keep going in the face of such an unexpected and tragic loss. 


elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 
Related Posts with Thumbnails