Accounting for sustainability with a focus on materiality and completeness

  • Di Wang

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This doctoral research aims to unpack sustainability reporting principles, namely the principle of
materiality and the principle of completeness proposed by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
G4 guidelines (2013). To this end, the researcher engages with sustainability reporting,
transparency and accountability literature and undertakes a two-year fieldwork including 54
interviews in total with corporate sustainability reporting managers, subject matter experts and
senior management and a variety of external stakeholders and two non-participatory observations.
The academic and empirical contexts will be introduced in the first three Chapters. The thesis then
adopts the three-paper approach and thus field materials related to the principle of materiality and
completeness are fed into two relatively independent papers (Chapter 4 and Chapter 5). The
contribution of the first empirical paper (Chapter 4) is to show how corporate materiality matrix
as a form of transparency has the potential to enable dialogue between the reporting entity and its
stakeholders. The contribution of the second empirical paper (Chapter 5) lies in the argument that
an incomplete corporate sustainability report is not necessarily problematic, as such
incompleteness has the potential to be complemented by actions on the ground. Subsequently,
drawing upon the methodological challenges that arise in undertaking fieldwork and then in
writing up the field materials that underpin the first two papers, the researcher in Paper 3 (Chapter
6) reflects upon the imperfections of interpretive field studies and contributes to the
methodological literature by emphasising the need for making such reflections. The thesis will be
closed by Chapter 7 with discussions about implications for practice and suggestions for future
Date of Award19 Mar 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorStuart M Cooper (Supervisor) & Chris Chapman (Supervisor)

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