SML research on sustainability reporting

An interdisciplinary research team led by the Center for Corporate Responsibility has developed tools that can help to successfully handle current challenges in sustainability reporting.

These challenges were the point of departure for the CTI project «The sustainability report as a means of stakeholder-oriented communication: Solutions for the application of new reporting guidelines for Swiss companies». Having been carried out by the ZHAW School of Management and Law’s (SML) Center for Corporate Responsibility (under the leadership of Herbert Winistörfer) in collaboration with colleagues from the Institute of Marketing Management (General Management department) and the FHNW Institute of Management (under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Claus-Heinrich Daub), the two-year project was successfully wrapped up in March 2017. The objective was to develop tools that would help to successfully handle the challenges posed by the GRI G4 and IIRC reporting guidelines in the areas of materiality assessment, stakeholder inclusiveness, the value chain as well as target group orientation.

12 tools to help handle challenges in sustainability reporting

12 tools were developed to support businesses in dealing with these challenges. Tools 1 to 3 serve to define the topics that are the most important to the business and to stakeholders and evaluate their materiality with regard to the criteria of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) und the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC). They also help businesses to make well-founded decisions on what topics to include in a sustainability report or integrated report. Tools 4 and 5 focus on systematically assessing the impact of relevant topics, and the likelihood of their occurrence, along the supply chain. These two tools help businesses to identify where (internally, externally or both) the impacts related to a relevant topic occur as well as the scale of the business’ sustainability impacts. Tool 6 deals with the definition of the  threshold of the materiality matrix. Tools 7 to 12 were developed to support target-group specific CR communication. For instance, they aid in identifying which stakeholders are indeed target groups of the report and what CR communication objectives are to be reached with them. Moreover, these tools help to establish the appropriate report type and format to address the target group.

Successful collaboration between science and practice

In order to generate practice-oriented research results, the project team worked closely with two industry partners, Basler Kantonalbank / Bank CLER and Kuoni Group. By implementing the tools, the team was able to optimise the preparation of sustainability reports in both companies.

In developing the tools, the research team received support from BSD Consulting, which contributed its experience as one of the leading consulting firms in sustainability reporting and will use the developed tools in its future consulting activities. In addition, the Center for Corporate Reporting (CCR) collaborated on the development of the tools and promoted the communication of the project results to reporting companies.

Herbert Winistörfer
Center for Corporate Responsibility