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

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Norbert Taubken.

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

Additional information

This paper is based on the white paper “Impact-Bewertungen und Materialität – neue Anforderungen und Ansätze für Wesentlichkeitsanalysen”, which was published in November 2017 by Scholz & Friends Reputation (http://www.csr-berichte.de). For this publication, it has been re-edited and supplemented with a practical example from NORMA Group.

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Taubken, N., Feld, T.Y. Impact measurement and the concept of materiality—new requirements and approaches for materiality assessments. NachhaltigkeitsManagementForum 26, 87–100 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00550-018-0483-x

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Keywords

  • Corporate Assessment
  • Measurable Impact
  • Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
  • Sustainability Topics
  • German Commercial Code