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Sustainability reporting assurance: Exploratory evidence in New Zealand

Nilipour Tabatabaei, A.
Fields of Research
ANZSRC::150106 Sustainability Accounting and Reporting , ANZSRC::1501 Accounting, Auditing and Accountability
Recent growth in sustainability reporting has been followed by growth in sustainability reporting assurance. Although sustainability reporting and its assurance are both still voluntary in many countries around the world, like New Zealand, several organisations have already disclosed sustainability reports publicly and also engaged in the assurance process. The aim of this research project is to explore the current state of sustainability reporting assurance in New Zealand listed companies. The intention is to discover the motivations for, and barriers to, assurance engagement; identify the preferred assurers; and introduce the influential factors for improving the quality of sustainability reporting assurance statements. Mono and multiple methods are implemented in this exploratory research. The research design is divided into four sequential phases. The first phase considers information about the current status of sustainability reporting assurance. The second phase analyses sustainability reporting assurance statements published by companies listed on NZX through content analysis. The last two phases investigate sustainability managers’ and sustainability assurers’ viewpoints about several aspects of sustainability reporting assurance through one-on-one online semi-structured interviews. Using agency theory, signalling theory and stakeholder theory, this research provides insights into motivations for, and barriers to, sustainability reporting assurance engagement from the perspectives of the sustainability assurers and two groups of sustainability reporting organisations – those that have not yet engaged, and those that have already engaged, in the assurance process. The results highlight the characteristics of the preferred sustainability assurers. This research also identifies that while the quality of sustainability reporting assurance statements is increasing, there is still considerable room for improvement. iv A number of potential limitations including subjectivity apply to this research which uses a qualitative approach on a small population of New Zealand listed companies. Despite these limitations, this research still provides some valid insights about sustainability reporting assurance in a voluntary environment. In particular, this research extends previous studies to add to sustainability reporting assurance knowledge by collating the results of several data gathering and data analysis techniques, which examine that area comprehensively. This research provides broader insights into the terms of sustainability reporting assurance since it considers all types of internal and external sustainability assurance as well as two groups of reporting organisations. The findings of this research will practically benefit organisations; sustainability assurers; New Zealand authorities, legislators and standard setters; and other stakeholders by introducing the characteristics of best practice for sustainability reporting assurance in a voluntary sustainability reporting and assurance environment.