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The boundary of sustainability reporting: evidence from the FTSE100

Samantha Miles (Business School, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK)
Kate Ringham (Business School, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 17 December 2019

Issue publication date: 31 March 2020



The purpose of this paper is to use a multi-disciplinary theoretical understanding of boundary setting to develop a quadripartite model in which sustainability reporting boundaries are classified as “Reputation Management”, “Ownership and Control”, “Accountability”; and, “Stakeholder Engagement”. Content analysis is then used to empirically test the model.


Using impression management theory, rationalism, systems and contingency theory, and network theory, a model is created which classifies sustainability reporting boundaries. Content analysis is used to empirically test boundaries across the disclosure of 49 GRI topics by the FTSE100.


Sustainability reporting fails to discharge accountability due to adoption of narrow “Reputation Management” boundaries. Boundaries are significantly (p<0.0001) narrower than previous research suggests. Findings support impression management theory as the strongest theory to predict reporting content. An ownership and control boundary, although widely criticized, represents the boundary of progressive reporters, lending marginal support for economic theories. Accountability boundaries are scarce. No evidence was found for stakeholder engagement boundaries.

Practical implications

The determination of boundary is critical to the discharge of accountability. A critical consideration of boundary setting is required, including authentic stakeholder engagement in determining boundaries and transparency of boundary adopted. The results are ranked to enable benchmarking of the FTSE100. Boundaries can be widened through regulation or “name and shame campaigns”.


This paper provides a theory-informed advancement in thinking on sustainability reporting boundary setting and the importance of this for advancing sustainability reporting quality.



Miles, S. and Ringham, K. (2020), "The boundary of sustainability reporting: evidence from the FTSE100", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 33 No. 2, pp. 357-390.



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