Impact measurement and the concept of materiality—new requirements and approaches for materiality assessments

  • Norbert TaubkenEmail author
  • Tim Y. Feld
Originalbeitrag / Original article


The materiality of a sustainability topic should be the deciding factor in determining to what extent a company concerns itself with that issue. A materiality assessment is the standard tool used to evaluate this. During such an assessment, companies not only ascertain the relevance of a specific sustainability topic from a stakeholder perspective but also assess the company’s own impacts with respect to the topic. The international financial market increasingly demands impact measurements from companies, and through the EU non-financial reporting directive (EU NFR Directive) the term impacts was explicitly embedded in the German Commercial Code (HGB).

The results of a materiality assessment aid companies in aligning their sustainability strategy and sustainability management. They also provide the foundation for focusing content when reporting on non-financial performance. The major challenge many companies are currently facing is preparing a valid impact measurement as no practicable methods have at present been standardised in this regard. Moreover, the potential such analyses offer as a basis for focusing and consolidating resources is often not fully leveraged.

This paper gives an overview of the various definitions and usual interpretations of the term materiality. We will show how most applications take an outside-in approach, which conflicts with the requirements of the GRI Standards in particular. In addition, possible approaches to impact measurement will be presented. We will conclude with a summary of how companies can employ an impact-oriented materiality assessment as the basis for sharpening the focus of their sustainability management.


Conflict of interest

N. Taubken and T.Y. Feld declare that they have no competing interests.


  1. Ausschuss für Recht und Verbraucherschutz (6. Ausschuss) (2017) Beschlussempfehlung und Bericht des Ausschusses für Recht und Verbraucherschutz. BT-Drucksache 18/11450 v. 08.03.2017Google Scholar
  2. Bellantuono N, Pontrandolfo P, Scozzi B (2016) Capturing the stakeholders’ view in sustainability reporting: a novel approach. Sustainability. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Business Call to Action, Global Reporting Initiative (2016) Measuring impact: how business accelerates the sustainable development goals ( Scholar
  4. Calabrese A, Costa R, Levialdi N, Menichini T (2016) A fuzzy analytic hierarchy process method to support materiality assessment in sustainability reporting. J Clean Prod 121:248–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cohen E (2014) Why the materiality matrix is useless. Accessed 7 May 2017Google Scholar
  6. Europäische Kommission (2017) Communication from the Commission—guidelines on non-financial reporting. Methodology for reporting non-financial information, C/2017/4234 ( Scholar
  7. Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (2015) GISR’S 12 principles of the CORE framework ( Scholar
  8. Global Reporting Initiative (2011) Sustainability reporting guidelines, version 3.1 ( Scholar
  9. Global Reporting Initiative (2015) Sustainability reporting guidelines, implementation manual ( Scholar
  10. Global Reporting Initiative (2016a) Consolidated set of GRI sustainability reporting standards 2016. Accessed 5 May 2017Google Scholar
  11. Global Reporting Initiative (2016b) GRI 101: foundation 2016 ( Scholar
  12. Global Reporting Initiative (2017a) Sustainability disclosure database. Accessed 24 July 2017Google Scholar
  13. Global Reporting Initiative (2017b) Questions and feedback: questions about materiality and topic boundary. Accessed 27 July 2017Google Scholar
  14. Global Reporting Initiative (2017c) Insights from the GRI corporate leadership group on reporting 2025, future trends in sustainability reporting ( Scholar
  15. Impact Valuation Roundtable (2017) Operationalizing impact valuation. Experiences and recommendations by participants of the impact valuation roundtable ( Scholar
  16. Institute of Public Auditors in Germany (2017) Zukunft der Berichterstattung, Nachhaltigkeit. IDW Positionspapier: Pflichten und Zweifelsfragen zur nichtfinanziellen Erklärung als Bestandteil der Unternehmensführung ( b52d2fcc5d71a 71035b8336a70/down-positionspapier-csr-data.pdf)Google Scholar
  17. International Accounting Standards Board (1989) Framework for the preparation and presentation of financial statements. International Accounting Standards Board, LondonGoogle Scholar
  18. International Federation of Accountants (2015) Materiality in integrated reporting, guidance for the preparation of integrated reports. Accessed 7 May 2017Google Scholar
  19. International Organization for Standardization (2015) ISO 14008. Monetary valuation of environmental impacts and related environmental aspects. Accessed 6 May 2017Google Scholar
  20. International Organization for Standardization (2016) ISO 14007. Environmental management: determining environmental costs and benefits, guidance. Accessed 6 May 2017Google Scholar
  21. Jones P, Comfort D, Hillier D (2015) Managing materiality: a preliminary examination of the adoption of the new GRI G4 guidelines on materiality within the business community. J Public Aff 16(3):222–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kering Group (2015) Environmental profit & loss. 2014 group results ( Scholar
  23. Kering Group (2017) EP&L methodology. Accessed 24 July 2017Google Scholar
  24. KPMG International (2014) A new vision of value: connecting corporate and societal value creation ( Scholar
  25. McElroy MW (2011) Are materiality matrices really material? Accessed 6 May 2017Google Scholar
  26. Otto Group (2015) The way ahead: report on the sustainability of our value creation 2015 ( Scholar
  27. Pape-Hamich S (2013) ESG-Faktoren als Risikoindikatoren fuer Investoren von Unternehmensanleihen. Accessed 13 July 2017Google Scholar
  28. Rangan K, Chase L, Karim S (2015) The truth about CSR. Harv Bus Rev 93(1/2):40–49Google Scholar
  29. RobecoSAM AG (2016) 2016 RobecoSAM corporate sustainability assessment—annual scoring ( Scholar
  30. Springer Gabler Verlag (2017) Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon, keyword: „Materiality“. Accessed 20 July 2017Google Scholar
  31. Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (2017) Materiality: Why is it important? Accessed 24 July 2017Google Scholar
  32. True Price (2017) Homepage. Accessed 13 July 2017Google Scholar
  33. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (1999) SEC staff accounting bulletin: no. 99—materiality. Accessed 7 May 2017Google Scholar
  34. Wikipedia (2016) Sozialrendite. Accessed 23 July 2017Google Scholar
  35. World Business Council for Sustainable Development (2013) Measuring socio-economic impact, a guide for business ( Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Deutschland, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Scholz & Friends ReputationBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations