Processes of auditability in sustainability assurance – the case of materiality construction

Source: , 26 June 2018

In an interesting case study is examined how financial audit-styled concepts such as materiality are transferred to non-financial audit arenas.

The authors uncover a number of interrelated features of the materiality determination and assessment process within sustainability assurance (assurance on sustainability reports). They illustrate how assuror flexibility, underpinned by assuror intuition, is central to uncovering assurance mechanisms deemed capable of addressing the materiality of ambiguous sustainability data. Assurors with no financial audit background retrospectively rationalise their intuition using the assumed authority of structured financial audit methodologies. This facilitates the tentative translation of financial audit knowledge to the sustainability assurance domain. Collaborative, holistic decision making processes inform the assurors’ continual construction of materiality and are characterised by alliances of (accountant and non-accountant) ‘expert’ assurors merging formal and tacit knowledge. These alliances seek to establish a social consensus among assurors around the materiality determination and assessment process.

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Mary Canning, Associate Professor of Accounting at University College Dublin

Brendan O’Dwyer, Professor of Accounting University of Amsterdam Business School/ Alliance Manchester Business School

George Georgakopoulos, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Economics and Business Section Accounting, University Amsterdam