The importance of corporate reporting on sustainability information getting increasingly acknowledged, with firms adopting non-financial reporting methods rapidly. One of these frameworks is the integrated reporting framework, which has gained the following of large firms from all over the world. The framework is focused on explaining how an organisation creates value in the short, medium, and long term, and hereby combines financial as well as non-financial information in one report. Next to being a disclosure method, the integrated reporting framework and its principles could also serve as an internal management process, by fostering integrated thinking and breaking down organisational silos. However, many scholars are critical about how useful the utilisation of integrated reporting actually is. Despite being initially announced as a sustainability accounting framework, the focus of the framework has now shifted to serving the investor’s community. Further, there are mixed findings about the framework’s potential for fostering organisational change. Consequently, there is a lack of academic consensus about the purpose integrated reporting has for managing sustainability issues. As a result of the opposing views in the literature, this thesis utilises a multiple-case study design, with the aim of providing clarity to practitioners in the field about the utility of the method in sustainability contexts. Data from six companies is collected by the means of twelve online interviews, which is used to find out when and how integrated reporting fosters improved corporate sustainability management. Based on the findings, a categorisation is made, existing of the Complementor, the Endorser, and the Transformer. It appears that sustainability-focused companies, belonging to the Complementor group, notice limited effects of the use of integrated reporting on their organisational conduct, and state that due to their strong, inherent sustainability strategy, integrated reporting does not affect their corporate sustainability management. It seems like these companies do not understand or approach integrated reporting as a change mechanism. Further, the Endorser group, consisting of one company, explains that there are large changes induced by using integrated reporting and the way of thinking it has triggered. Another company, belonging to the Transformer group, explains that they see the benefits of integrated reporting for improving the company’s sustainability management, but this company is still remobilising the reporting processes, and thus there cannot be concluded about the final effects integrated reporting has. Analysing the data, it seems that integrated reporting has the power to foster improved sustainability management, but there seem to be certain firm-specific conditions which can inhibit or encourage this change. These conditions relate to how organisations choose to approach the framework. It appears that practitioners should approach integrated reporting as a change process. The findings of the current research give practitioners an understanding of the concept of integrated reporting as a change inducer in sustainability management, which could help them decide on the effectiveness of integrated reporting in their organisational context. Furthermore, it contributes to the current lack of academic understanding on the purpose of integrated reporting and the role of firm-specific differences. However, as the research was based on a rather small sample, the results of this study should be considered as a first indicator of these processes and conditions. The categorisation made in this research could be used as a starting point for future, empirical research.

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Lodge, Jan, Kennedy, S.P.
Global Business & Sustainability
Rotterdam School of Management

Defourny, Paulien. (2022, September 30). Integrated Reporting and Sustainability: The never-ending debate?. Global Business & Sustainability. Retrieved from