The Discourse of Risk and Materiality in Sustainability Reporting

Wendy Stubbs, Colin Higgins

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This paper explores the extent to which risk and materiality are integrated in organisations and their reports. Risk and materiality are key concepts underpinning sustainability reporting and integrated reporting. They share similar objectives – to identify material issues that affect an organisation’s ability to create value – yet they appear to exist in parallel in many organisations. The ongoing attempt to identify material issues and risks leads to multiple discourses about what are the most important issues to deal with, which can adversely affect an organisation’s value-creation outcome. From interviews with board members, risk managers and sustainability managers, we found that there is an ongoing discursive struggle between the sustainability managers, who primarily engage in a stakeholder discourse in their attempt to give meaning to the concept of materiality, and the Board and risk managers who interpret materiality through a risk and financial lens. It is clear that the sustainability managers have not built support for their concept of materiality, as it does not resonate with other actors, particularly the Board members who have more power and legitimacy than the sustainability managers. The sustainability managers have failed to convey their meaning of materiality and their discursive practices have not taken hold within the organisations. In this context, the Board warrants voice. In opening the “black box” of materiality, we found that in reality it is interpreted through a risk discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2020
EventAnnual Meeting of the Academy of Management 2004 - New Orleans, United States of America
Duration: 6 Aug 200411 Aug 2004
Conference number: 64th


OtherAnnual Meeting of the Academy of Management 2004
Abbreviated titleAoM 2004
CountryUnited States of America
CityNew Orleans
OtherAs we gather in New Orleans, this year’s theme of “Creating Actionable
Knowledge” encourages us to explore the influence and meaning of our
research on management and organizations. The AOM has long been
dedicated to creating and disseminating knowledge about management
and organizations, and a key part of its mission requires that our
science-based knowledge be relevant, responsible, and make a valuable
contribution to society and its institutions. To accomplish this, our
knowledge must transcend purely scientific concerns and enable organizational members to make informed choices about important practical problems and to implement solutions to them effectively.
Internet address


  • sustainability reporting integrated reporting, risk, materiality, discourse analysis

Cite this