Why is this important? (criterion relevance)
To give sustainability management an effective direction, companies should initially focus on solving particularly pressing problems. This calls for clarification regarding which company activities are associated with or have an impact on key environmental and/or social problems. Vice versa, environmental and social challenges can also have an impact on the business model from outside of the company.
What do the terms mean? (definitions)
Sustainability aspects are the topics that enable sustainable development in the first place. The Sustainable Development Goals or the list of topics featured in the GRI Standard can provide initial guidance regarding what sustainability aspects there are.
The issues considered material with regard to this criterion are the company’s activities that have a decisive negative or positive impact on sustainability aspects as well as the sustainability aspects that have an especially large impact on the company’s activities. Topics can also be material if they are particularly significant to stakeholders’ decision making or if they influence stakeholders’ relationship with your company. The aspects deemed to be material vary from sector to sector and strongly depend on the processes within your company.
Stakeholders are individuals or groups associated with the company who either have a bearing on its business activities or are influenced by its business activities, e.g. business partners, employees, clients, suppliers, municipalities, parties, associations, government bodies, non-governmental organisations, etc. (see criterion 9).
What needs to be borne in mind? (practical tips)
Ideally, the material sustainability aspects should be identified not only from the company’s perspective, but also in dialogue with the key stakeholders. This prevents a blinkered perspective from being adopted and helps the company to identify its stakeholders’ expectations in good time. It is therefore important that there is an early analysis of how the company is embedded within society and of any specific features that this results in. The first aspect on the checklist therefore enquires about milieu specifics such as your company’s significance as a regional employer, environmental specifics (bodies of water, nature reserves, etc.) in the direct vicinity and environmental and social issues with which your sector is frequently associated in the media. The materiality analysis can then build on this consideration of the milieu.
Sustainability aspects tend to present companies not only with risks, but also with opportunities. Please therefore endeavour to give a balanced account.