In our work assisting with the development of corporate sustainability reports, L Studio has come to value the process outlined by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) for defining materiality of sustainability aspects as they relate to each unique organization. In the transition from the third generation guidelines (G3) to the fourth generation (G4), GRI places even greater emphasis on materiality, along with stakeholder input, for defining what to report. Taking this a step further, if a sustainability report is a snapshot of a sustainability program, perhaps materiality and stakeholder input can (and should) help define an organization’s sustainability strategy as a whole.

Just as we’ve been seeing how the sustainability reporting cycle helps our clients continue to evaluate their progress and goals, continued assessment of materiality can keep strategy sharp and provide focus (and justification) for programs and expenditures.

The April 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review provides an excellent example of this principle in practice. In an article entitled “Sustainability a CFO Can Love” by Kurt Kuehn with Lynnette McIntire, the authors demonstrate how materiality has enabled UPS to prioritize sustainability initiatives and contributions. The materiality matrix on page 70 shows those aspects of UPS’ business that are most critical to both business success and stakeholder interests.

Check it out on HBR.org or download as a PDF.