By Professor Delphine Gibassier, Toulouse Business School
When I started teaching (during my PhD and after), the topic of teaching Social and Environmental Accounting related topics, such as environmental accounting, carbon accounting or integrated reporting was not easy to bring to (French) business schools. I was told business companies did not care, or that students could at most get “an introduction” because the topic was not on the chartered accountancy exam. While I was able to teach an optional course in carbon accounting in 2013 thanks to a SEA research-focused colleague, the door remained closed elsewhere.
Integrated reporting, however, raised the interest of my accounting colleagues. For some reason, it was easier to see through the connection between accounting and sustainability thanks to this new kind of reporting.
In my institution, I introduced the topic through a conference to our accounting major students in 2014, with Carol Adams and Lisa French (from IIRC). After this introduction, I first taught integrated reporting during a 6-hour class in 2015. However, the topic was too complex to master in this short amount of time, and I was not pleased with the outcome. In 2016, there was the option to make a new 30-hour course, in English, in our department. I proposed to develop a new course on integrated reporting, and it was accepted. I proposed to Carol Adams teaching half of the class. She helped me developed the syllabus and brought her experience in building integrated reports in practice to the class. It was great to be able to gather both our experiences for the students to be close to practice.
When I thought about how to best introduce a topic that is still “in the making”, with little practice, I decided to develop new teaching methods. First, I wanted to develop critical thinking. I launched a twitter challenge. Students had to look for 10 articles, view points etc. for and against integrated reporting. Then they had to tweet the link with # so that everyone would be able to look for the documents. After collecting the links from all the students, they had to write an essay, in groups, on what were the positive elements of the integrated reporting trend and what could be critiqued.
Second, I needed them to master key concepts of integrated report. For this, I used an existing case study (DBS: Journey to Integrated Reporting), and built another one on “materiality”.
Third, I decided to focus on the key accounting concept in integrated reports: “the capitals”. Since there is not “best practice” yet and that it is an “ongoing” practice, I decided to built a database of existing integrated reports. Instead of finding around 300 worldwide, I went to develop a 1300+integrated reports database. From this database, I extracted around 50 reports on “business models” (with capitals), natural capital, human/intellectual/social capitals, as well as a few that reported using stakeholder voices as focus. By groups, students had to develop their own analytical grid to decide what were the “best” integrated reports on “natural capital” for example, according to them. During the teaching hours, we discussed together what were the key criteria. They wrote a first presentation after the 30-hour seminar, a second version after 3 weeks, and a final version after another 2 weeks.
Example of analytical grids used:
Standard KPIs (for each capital)
Transparency and honesty: it's not only about identify strengths but also weaknesses
Targets (to challenge and motivate management and allow comparison)
Actions: Are we going to improve our weaknesses? Are we going to develop our
Comparability (evolution past/today)
All in all, the teaching was very much based on developing students’ own understanding of integrated reporting, while still mastering key concepts behind the idea of integrated reports. Moreover, it was a subtle way to introduce the fact that value is multifaceted, and that accounting has to develop other ways of accounting for it. Finally, students questioned the notion of “accountability” that is reported in integrated reports, looking at stakeholders to which the companies were “talking”, the use of assurance, materiality, and the absence of reporting on potential negative events.
Below some resources for teaching IR to your class.
Resources for teaching Integrated Reporting
Carol Adams’ blog: https://drcaroladams.net/ (over 56 resources on IR)
Elaine Cohen’s blog: http://csr-reporting.blogspot.fr
Sustainable Brands Reporting 3.0 series:
Reporting 3.0’s Reporting Blueprint: Triggering a Regenerative, Inclusive & Open Economy
How to Transform Today’s ‘Senseless’ ESG Data into Tomorrow’s Actionable Knowledge
Purpose + Context = Connectedness
Integration (Data Blueprint)
Definition of Overall Success (Reporting Blueprint)
Contextualization (Data Blueprint)
Securing Scalability (Reporting Blueprint)
Activation & Acceleration (Data Blueprint)
Databases with IR reports:
GRI (choose “integrated reports” to filter)
Look at the IIRC’s Competency Matrix
1/ DBS: Journey to Integrated Reporting (from 2012)
2/ Danone, will be published at Ivey Publishing (available end of 2018, write me an email if you would like to be informed)