Research Summary

Sustainability and Integrated Reporting

by Robert G. Eccles

Description

A sustainable strategy for a company is one that enables it to create value for shareholders over the long term while contributing to a sustainable society. In doing so, it must balance the needs of different types of providers of financial capital (e.g., shareholders and debt holders) and stakeholders representing various environmental and social interests of civil society. Typically tradeoffs are involved, although these can be reduced or even reversed through innovation. It is ultimately the responsibility of the board of directors to determine the relative emphasis a company places on providers of financial capital and other stakeholders and over what time frames in their fiduciary duty to represent the interests of the corporation as a legal entity. One mechanism for helping companies make these resource allocation decisions is integrated reporting in which a company communicates both internally and externally its financial, environmental, social, and governance performance and the relationships between them.

One Report: Integrated Reporting for a Sustainable Strategy (with Michael P. Krzus), is the first book on this subject. One Report was the winner of the 2010 PROSE award in the category of Business, Finance, & Management. Professor Eccles continues his active research program on integrated reporting. Professor Eccles’ next book on the subject, The Integrated Reporting Movement: Meaning, Momentum, Motives, and Materiality (with Michael P. Krzus and Sydney Ribot) will be published in November 2014. This book introduces the ideas of an annual board of directors “Statement of Significant Audiences and Materiality” and the “Sustainable Value Matrix.” In developing these ideas, Professor Eccles worked closely with Mr. Tim Youmans.  He and Professor Eccles are now writing a book with the working title of “The Meaning of Materiality” which will be an in depth treatment of the ideas introduced in The Integrated Reporting Movement and will include a public policy perspective on the important but elusive concept of materiality. Youmans received his Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School (2013) and is a Harvard Kennedy School Lucius N. Littauer Fellow.

In collaboration with Professor George Serafeim of the Harvard Business School, Eccles has been engaged in an extensive and continuing research program on sustainability. This has resulted in a number of articles and cases which explore how companies can develop and implement sustainable strategies. The audience for their work includes both academics and practitioners. For the latter, two relevant articles are The Performance Frontier: Innovating a Sustainable Strategy (with George Serafeim) and How to Become a Sustainable Company (with Kathleen Miller Perkins and George Serafeim). For both audiences, the research they have done with Professor Ioannis Ioannou of the London Business School comparing the characteristics and performance of a matched set of “High Sustainability” and “Low Sustainability” companies is relevant. (Is There an Optimal Degree of Sustainability? (with Ioannis Ioannou and George Serafeim).) Eccles and Serafeim are currently working on a book with the working title of “Mobilizing the Global 1000.” The premise of this book is that the increasing economic concentration in the world’s largest companies makes them a force even more important than governments in creating a sustainable society. Based on their research, Eccles and Serafeim have created an executive education program called “Aligning Sustainablity with Corporate Performance” and a doctoral seminar called “The Role of the Corporation in Society.”

 

Professor Eccles is working in a number of ways to translate his research on sustainability and integrated reporting into practice. He is a member of the International Integrated Reporting Council (http://www.integratedreporting.org/) and the founding Chairman of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) ( www.sasb.org). Dr. Eccles is the co-founder, with Professor George Serafeim of Harvard Business School, of the Innovating for Sustainability social movement (https://www.facebook.com/innovatingforsustainability), and a member of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Sustainable Value Creation (https://www.conference-board.org).

Keywords: sustainability; sustainability reporting;