The journey towards corporate sustainability is marked by transparency, accountability, and a commitment to stakeholders. Central to this journey is the materiality assessment – a process that identifies, evaluates, and prioritizes the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues most relevant to an organization and its stakeholders. As organizations strive to demonstrate their dedication to sustainability, a critical question emerges: Should the results of the materiality assessment be made public?
The case for publication
Publishing materiality assessment results fosters transparency. It demonstrates a commitment to openness about the organization’s impacts, risks, and priorities. Stakeholders, including investors, customers, employees, and the wider community, appreciate and value transparency.
Building trust and credibility:
Public disclosure of materiality assessment results builds trust and credibility. Stakeholders want assurance that the organization is addressing the issues that truly matter, and sharing this information showcases a willingness to be held accountable.
Making materiality assessment results public invites stakeholders into the sustainability conversation. It allows them to understand the organization’s strategic focus, contribute insights, and align their expectations with the identified material issues.
Meeting reporting standards:
Many reporting frameworks and standards, such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), encourage the disclosure of materiality assessment results. Adhering to these standards ensures alignment with global best practices.
Driving continuous improvement:
Public disclosure creates a feedback loop for continuous improvement. Stakeholder reactions and responses to disclosed material issues can inform future assessments, refining the organization’s sustainability strategy over time.
Considerations for non-publication
Certain material issues may be strategically sensitive, posing potential risks to the organization if disclosed. For example, in the case of universally important topics like diversity and inclusion, it may appear lower on the priority scale, leading stakeholders and the general public to assume incorrectly that the issue is deprioritized in the organization which may have negative repercussions for a business
Organizations operating in competitive industries may hesitate to disclose certain material issues that could be exploited by rivals. For some companies, the interests and priorities of key stakeholders are competitive intelligence . Balancing transparency with competitive considerations becomes crucial in such contexts.
Early stages of the sustainability journey:
For organizations in the early stages of their sustainability journey, non-publication may be a strategic choice. Internalizing and addressing material issues before public disclosure allows for a more mature and comprehensive sustainability narrative.
Balancing stakeholder expectations:
While transparency is crucial, organizations must balance the desire for disclosure with the need to manage stakeholder expectations. It is crucial to refrain from establishing long-term initiatives solely based on stakeholder priorities captured in a single snapshot in timeSharing this information implies a commitment to be held accountable in case priorities undergo adjustments.
Navigating the decision
Ultimately, the decision to publish or not to publish materiality assessment results is nuanced and organization-specific. It requires a thoughtful examination of the organization’s values, culture, and strategic objectives. A middle ground may involve phased disclosure, where less sensitive material issues are disclosed initially, paving the way for increased transparency over time.
Regardless of the decision, it is essential to communicate the rationale behind it. Stakeholders appreciate authenticity and responsiveness. An organization that can articulate why certain information is disclosed or withheld demonstrates a mature and considerate approach to sustainability reporting.
The journey of sustainability is a shared one. Whether to publish or not to publish materiality assessment results depends on the unique circumstances and aspirations of each organization. What remains constant is the imperative for authenticity, thoughtful decision-making, and a commitment to driving positive change in the areas that matter most. This way, sustainability can experience, continuous uninterrupted growth.