Assessing and Improving the Quality of Sustainability Reports: The Auditors’ Perspective

  • Olivier Boiral
  • Iñaki Heras-Saizarbitoria
  • Marie-Christine Brotherton
Original Paper


This article presents, an analysis of the opinions of assurance providers regarding the quality and the limitations of sustainability reports and their recommendations to improve them using the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as a framework. The qualitative content analysis of 301 assurance statements for sustainability reports from mining and energy companies provides a comprehensive view of the main outcomes of the assurance process, including its limitations, the application of the GRI principles and suggestions for improving sustainability reports. Taking into account the perceptions of practitioners a priori well informed on the quality of sustainability reports—namely assurance providers—this paper complements the current literature on sustainability reporting and its assurance, including critical approaches that question the reliability of sustainability reports, stakeholder engagement and the accountability of reporting practices. This study contributes to the debates surrounding the quality of sustainability reports, the added value of assurance statements and the ethical issues underlying the assurance process. It also contains important practical implications for auditors, standardization organizations and stakeholders.


Sustainability reporting Assurance statements Auditing Accountability GRI Certification 



The authors wish to express their sincere thanks to the Editor and to the anonymous reviewers for their assistance, since their constructive criticism and suggestions helped to improve and develop the paper.


This study was funded by the Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Development Management Standards and a Research Group funded by the Basque Autonomous Government (IT1073-16).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Olivier Boiral
    • 1
  • Iñaki Heras-Saizarbitoria
    • 2
  • Marie-Christine Brotherton
    • 1
  1. 1.Département de management, Faculté des sciences de l’administrationUniversité LavalQuebecCanada
  2. 2.Department of Management, Faculty of Economics and Business (Gipuzkoa)University of the Basque Country UPV-EHUSan SebastianSpain

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