Journal Article

The boundary of sustainability reporting: Evidence from the FTSE100


Purpose. The aim of this paper is to use a multidisciplinary theoretical understanding of boundary setting to develop a quadripartite model in which sustainability reporting boundaries are classified as ‘Reputation Management’, ‘Ownership and Control’, ‘Accountability; and, ‘Stakeholder Engagement’. Content analysis is then used to empirically test the model. Design/approach. Using impression management theory, rationalism, systems and contingency theory, and network theory a model is created which classifies sustainability reporting boundaries. Content analysis is used to empirically test boundaries across the disclosure of 49 GRI topics by the FTSE100. Findings. Sustainability reporting fails to discharge accountability due to adoption of narrow ‘Reputation Management’ boundaries. Boundaries are significantly (p<0.0001) narrower than previous research suggests. Findings support Impression Management Theory as the strongest theory to predict reporting content. An Ownership and Control boundary, although widely criticised, represents the boundary of progressive reporters, lending marginal support for economic theories. Accountability boundaries are scarce. No evidence was found for Stakeholder Engagement boundaries. Practical Implications. The determination of boundary is critical to the discharge of accountability. A critical consideration of boundary setting is required, including authentic stakeholder engagement in determining boundaries and transparency of boundary adopted. The results are ranked to enable benchmarking of the FTSE100. Boundaries can be widened through regulation or ‘name and shame campaigns’. Originality/value. This paper provides a theory-informed advancement in thinking on sustainability reporting boundary setting and the importance of this for advancing sustainability reporting quality.

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Miles, Samantha
Ringham, Kate

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics
Oxford Brookes Business School


Year of publication: 2019
Date of RADAR deposit: 2019-11-07

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

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