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Corporate Responsibility in Action

Defining Materiality

Created: 15 Oct 2013
Cecily Joseph's picture
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Symantec regularly identifies and prioritizes its most important sustainability issues, those of high importance to both stakeholders and the company. These issues are deeply relevant to our ability to succeed and are addressed in our internal strategic priorities, corporate responsibility approach, and stakeholder communications such as our Corporate Responsibility Report, CR in Action blog and Corporate Responsibility Snapshot (a Symantec newsletter distributed to over 20,000 stakeholders).

However, materiality as it relates to sustainability is not created equal across all companies, and in some cases, the most important information is not making it into CSR and sustainability reports. For example, according to the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board’s (SASB) preliminary research, 60 to 70 percent of data in CSR reports is immaterial (based on the Supreme Court definition of the term).

This inconsistency in defining priority issues makes it difficult for stakeholders, such as investors, to make an accurate assessment of how a company is managing the issues that have the biggest impacts on their business and long-term value. Additionally, it becomes challenging to accurately compare and contrast performance between companies.

Enter SASB, a non-profit organization that is helping create a consistent approach to materiality that will improve the quality and breadth of corporate reporting and disclosures. SASB provides sustainability accounting standards for use by publicly-listed corporations in the US in disclosing material sustainability issues for the benefit of investors and the public. SASB standards, which are being developed for 88 industries, are designed to inform disclosure of sustainability issues in the Forms 10-K and 20-F.

According to SASB:

"We live in a different world now, one that has greater uncertainty, a broader range of risks and opportunities, and significant resource constraints beyond access to capital. A new, standardized language is needed to articulate the material, non-financial risks and opportunities facing companies today…..

For this reason, SASB is immersed in understanding, interpreting, and measuring relevant sustainability issues at the industry level, in order that they can be measured, managed, and disclosed."

In May, Symantec joined the SASB advisory council, a network of professionals that support and promote the work of SASB. Additionally, Symantec is participating in one of SASB’s industry working groups to help develop sustainability accounting standards for the Technology and Communications sector. SASB’s standards for six industries in the Technology & Communications sector are open for a 90-day public comment period through January 2—click here to provide feedback.

As part of SASB and the working group, we join leading industry peers to participate in the dialogue on developing a common definition of materiality as it relates to sustainability for our sector. This partnership not only strengthens our own materiality process, but allows us to learn from peers and continue to stay at the forefront of sustainability reporting and disclosure.

Cecily Joseph is Symantec's Senior Director, Corporate Responsibility.