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Academics and policymakers at odds: the case of the IFRS Foundation Trustees’ consultation paper on sustainability reporting

Carol A. Adams (Durham University Business School, Durham University, Durham, UK)
Frank Mueller (Durham University Business School, Durham University, Durham, UK)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Article publication date: 17 May 2022

Issue publication date: 13 October 2022




This paper aims to examine the nature of academic engagement with policy and the (lack of) responsiveness by policymakers to the scientific community through the development of the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) Foundation Trustees’ Consultation Paper on Sustainability Reporting (IFRS Foundation, 2020).


The 577 submissions to the IFRS Foundation consultation were reviewed, and 39 were identified as being submitted by academics. These 39 included collectively 104 academic signatories from 74 organisations or networks and 20 countries. They were analysed using NVivo. Drawing on the literature on techniques used to discredit or credit arguments, we examine the academic responses to the consultation questions, particularly those concerning: the role of the IFRS Foundation; perceptions of the “investor perspective”; the audience for reporting; the definition of materiality; and a climate first approach.


The majority (72%) of academic submissions were opposed to the IFRS Foundation Trustees’ proposals on key issues. This dissenting majority collectively have substantial research records in sustainability reporting and its outcomes. Those supportive were significantly less likely to reference research or state their credentials and, despite being supportive, nevertheless raised concerns with the proposals.

Practical implications

Senior academics undertaking research in the field have engaged, in unusually high numbers, with a policy development they believe will not work and maybe counter to achieving sustainable development. The findings underscore the importance of highlighting the discrediting strategies and tactics used in this discursive “battle”. The findings have implications for the legitimacy of policymakers on sustainability-related initiatives which are not engaging with the relevant scientific community.

Social implications

Policy initiatives that are judged as potentially harmful to sustainable development attract more intense, activist and sustained engagement supported by research evidence.


The paper identifies the importance of evidence-based academic engagement and highlights strategies that engaging academics need to persist over. It highlights the collective view of academics in the field on the IFRS Foundation consultation paper.



The authors are grateful to the special issue guest editors for handling the paper and to the anonymous reviewers.


Adams, C.A. and Mueller, F. (2022), "Academics and policymakers at odds: the case of the IFRS Foundation Trustees’ consultation paper on sustainability reporting", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 13 No. 6, pp. 1310-1333.



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