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Assessing the materiality of university G4-sustainability reports

Melanie Lubinger (Institute for Management Accounting, Faculty of Social Science, Economics and Business, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Linz, Austria)
Judith Frei (Institute for Management Accounting, Faculty of Social Science, Economics and Business, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Linz, Austria)
Dorothea Greiling (Institute for Management Accounting, Faculty of Social Science, Economics and Business, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Linz, Austria)

Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management

ISSN: 1096-3367

Article publication date: 2 September 2019

Abstract

Purpose

Materiality, as a content-selection principle, is an emerging trend in sustainability reporting for making sustainability reports (SRs) more relevant for stakeholders. The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether materiality matters in the reporting practice of universities which have adopted the Global Reporting Initiative G4 Guidelines.

Design/methodology/approach

Strategic stakeholder theory and sociological institutionalism serve for deriving conflicting expectations about the compliance of universities with the materiality principle. In the empirical section of this paper, content analyses are conducted on the documented material aspects, followed by a correlation analysis for examining to which extent the identified material aspects are reported in the SRs.

Findings

Although universities document G4-19 stakeholder-material aspects according to different relevance levels and for internal and external stakeholder groups, the identified material aspects are not appropriately reported in the SRs. The adoption of the materiality principle is a superficial one and therefore more in line with the expectations of sociological institutionalism.

Research limitations/implications

The main limitation for this study is the small number of university SRs available. The chance to make SRs more relevant by focusing on stakeholder-material aspects is not used.

Originality/value

This paper reports the first study looking at the compliance between the documented material aspects and the content of SRs in a particular challenging organisational field, the university sector. This paper also adds to the emerging theoretical discussion about the extent universities implement materiality in SRs.

Keywords

Citation

Lubinger, M., Frei, J. and Greiling, D. (2019), "Assessing the materiality of university G4-sustainability reports", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 31 No. 3, pp. 364-391. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPBAFM-10-2018-0117

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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