Understanding how managers institutionalise sustainability reporting: Evidence from Australia and New Zealand

Muhammad Bilal Farooq, Charl de Villiers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore how sustainability reporting managers (SRMs) institutionalise sustainability reporting within organisations. Design/methodology/approach: In total, 35 semi-structured interviews with SRMs in Australia and New Zealand were analysed using an institutional work perspective. Findings: SRMs’ institutional work can be categorised into four phases with each phase representing a different approach to sustainability reporting. Organisations transition from phase one to four as they achieve a higher level of maturity and a deeper embedding and routinisation of sustainability reporting. These include educating and advocacy work undertaken by engaging with managers (phase one), transitioning to a decentralised sustainability reporting process (phase two), transitioning to leaner, focussed, materiality driven sustainability reporting (phase three), and using sustainability key performance indicators and materiality assessment reports for planning, decision-making, goal setting, performance appraisal, and incentives (phase four). However, SRMs face challenges including their inexperience, limited time and resources, lack of management commitment to sustainability reporting and low external interest in sustainability reporting. The study identifies ten reasons why material issues are not always (adequately) disclosed. Practical implications: This study recommends more training and development for SRMs, and that regulation be considered to mandate the disclosure of the materiality assessments in sustainability reports. Originality/value: This research extends the existing literature examining how sustainability reports are prepared and sheds further light on how a materiality assessment is undertaken. The study identifies ten reasons for the non-disclosure of material matters, including but not limited to, legitimacy motives. Researchers can use these reasons to refine their methods for evaluating published sustainability reports. At a theoretical level, the study provides four observations that institutional researchers should consider when examining forms of institutional work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1240-1269
Number of pages30
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Aug 8 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Institutional work
  • Materiality assessment
  • Social and environmental reporting
  • Sustainability reporting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)


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