Records roles in Corporate Sustainability Reporting : An explorative study of corporate sustainability reporting from an archives and information science perspective

University essay from Mittuniversitetet/Institutionen för informationssystem och –teknologi

Abstract: Calls for more responsible companies, have led to initiatives and legislations of sustainability reporting, in order to improve corporate transparency and accountability regarding companies economic, environmental and social impact. The aim of the research was to explore records roles in corporate sustainability reporting, which is discussed from an archives and information science perspective. Records are regarded as evidence of business activities and therefore crucial to accountability and decision-making processes. A sustainability report is a record, and records are also used to create a sustainability report. The thesis is based on a qualitative explorative methodology with interviews as data gathering technique. Interviews were carried out with four employees at three different companies who work with sustainability reporting, a sustainability consultant who works with sustainability reporting, and an auditor who assesses the  companies´ annual and sustainability reports. The interviews have addressed records’ role in different aspects of sustainability reporting, exploring how sustainability reports are created, used and pluralized. As well as how the records, generated as an effect of the reporting process, are used, what impact they have on the business and efficiency of the process. The thesis also explore respondents´ perspectives on reliability and credibility of the reports in relation to records qualities. Results from the interviews have been analysed with the lens of Records Continuum Model and the ISO standard for records management, ISO 15489-1:2016. Results show that records are key assets that provide evidential information that enables different functions and benefits –both to companies that report and to stakeholders. Primary benefits of the reporting that have been emphasized are that it enables transparency and accountability, informed decision-making, management of risks, compliance with legislation, ability to demonstrate corporate responsibility and meeting sustainability goals, greater business efficiency, evidence-based analysis and development activities, formation of business culture and identity, and protection of corporate and collective memory about the corporates’ work regarding sustainability. Records are also valuable assets for governance and continuous improvements. It enables to monitor trends and assessment on how the company meets its targets. The thesis gives an increased understanding of records’ role in a socio-economic context. It also suggests some areas for further research and development in order for sustainability reporting to further support a sustainable development. One of the major tasks would be to make pluralization of sustainability-related records more efficient, in order to facilitate further utilization of the information. This may enhance corporate accountability and decision making based on sustainability criteria, and would make the work more efficient for companies. The global records governance environment can be improved further, in order to support  global sustainable development. Important is also to raise awareness about the role of trustworthy records.

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