Mastering Materiality Part 5: Interpreting your Materiality Matrix

In part five of our Mastering Materiality series, ESG experts Andrea Spencer-Cooke and Dr Anna Young-Ferris deep-dive into the Materiality Matrix, understanding each segment, and how to interpret your results.

By AnsaradaMon May 15 2023Environmental Social and Governance

Engaging stakeholders is a core part of managing ESG issues effectively, and one of the best tools for doing this is through an ESG Materiality Assessment. This process centers on consulting key internal and external stakeholders to better understand their concerns and priorities around ESG impacts arising from the organization’s activities, as well as understanding the significance and impact of ESG issues on the organization itself. The results are then commonly represented in a matrix to capture the environmental, social and governance issues that matter most— the organization’s so-called ‘material’ issues.

As set out in the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) reporting standard GRI 101: Foundation 2016, the Materiality Matrix has commonly been used by organizations as a simple way to highlight the relative significance of environmental, social and governance issues for it and its stakeholders. Although GRI 1: Foundation 2021 revised Universal Standards does not stipulate including a matrix per se, the standard encourages an organization to provide a visual representation of the prioritization of its material topics—and for an SME starting out on its ESG journey, a matrix remains a helpful starting point.

The Ansarada Materiality Assessment tool automatically generates a Materiality Matrix from an organization’s stakeholder inputs to help it visualize its priority ESG issues.

An example Materiality Matrix is shown below. The matrix is divided into three segments, indicating how high or low each issue was ranked in terms of the significance of the issue for the organization (X axis) and its significance to stakeholders (Y axis).

How to interpret the Materiality Matrix

The Materiality Matrix is divided into segments as follows:

Segment 1: Act Now

Issues that fall within the top right-hand band of the matrix are an organization’s most critical material issues. These were rated highest either in terms of their significance for the organization and/or their importance to stakeholders. Given their material importance, the benefits of taking immediate, credible, and effective action on these issues are compelling, while failing to act could pose major reputational, financial, and regulatory risks.

Segment 2: Manage and Monitor 

Issues that fall within the middle band of the matrix are those that have been rated moderately or highly in terms of their importance for stakeholders and/or the impact and influence the organization has upon the issue. These are areas that an organization should proactively manage and monitor to mitigate ongoing risks and boost performance.

Segment 3: Learn and Prepare 

Issues that fall within the bottom left-hand band of the matrix are the least material issues for an organization at the point in time of conducting the materiality assessment. These are issues that were rated lower both in terms of their importance to stakeholders and the organization’s impact upon them. However, given that they ranked high enough to be included in the matrix, these issues should be watched, understood and an organization should initiate, or be ready to take, action.

Segment 4: Consider and Review

The Materiality Assessment process also identifies a fourth, least material, cluster of issues that are not included in the Materiality Matrix. Segment 4 contains issues rated lowest by both the organization and its stakeholders. These are included in the Appendix of the Materiality Assessment results report for reference. As ESG issues, associated impacts, regulations and priorities are dynamic and continually evolving, the organization should consider and review these issues periodically and take action when opportunities arise or circumstances change. 

What else is included in the Materiality Assessment results report?

The report provides a comprehensive overview of your materiality process, including: 
  • Engagement statistics: View how many surveys were sent and completed across each stakeholder group
  • Number of issues: Understand the number of material issues assessed according to ESG category
  • Materiality explainer: Receive an overview of materiality, the Materiality Assessment, and why it matters to help educate any external readers
  • Top issues and recommended actions:  Build a comprehensive list of top issues and recommended actions moving forward, based on the priority segments of the matrix
  • Stakeholder alignment:  Compare the top 5 material issues ranked, for both internal and external stakeholder groups
  • Assessment commentary: Generate an appendix containing all stakeholder comments on the assessment
  • Stakeholder suggested material issues: Reflect on additional material issues identified by stakeholders for consideration by the organization
View a sample Materiality Assessment results report here. 

As well as helping you prioritize relevant ESG issues, the Ansarada Materiality Assessment equips you with recommended next steps so you can take meaningful action to improve your ESG performance.

Your ESG journey starts with a Materiality Assessment

Undertaking a traditional Materiality Assessment can be a complex and challenging process for organizations. Due to the wide range of potential issues and the number and variety of stakeholders involved, materiality can be time-consuming and costly. Without robust and user-friendly digitized tools to guide and streamline a very manual process, it can take up to 6 months and cost anywhere between $30k to $100k. 

In partnership with ESG experts One Stone Advisors, Ansarada has released a state-of-the-art digital Materiality Assessment, so organizations can start their ESG journey at a fraction of that time and cost outlay. Designed with leading practice structure and processes built in, the Materiality Assessment builds on recognized ESG frameworks. The output is a comprehensive, Board-ready report, with clear next steps to take and a blueprint for an integrated ESG strategy moving forward.

Start your ESG journey

Take your ESG journey towards becoming a sustainability leader to the next level and build strong foundations for a winning business strategy. It’s good business sense.
Andrea Spencer-Cooke is Founder and CEO of One Stone Advisors Pty Ltd and specialises in helping senior management map and prioritise sustainability/ESG issues for better business planning and engagement. She has extensive knowledge of global sustainability leading practices, ESG frameworks and responsible business standards and is a recognised expert on the United Nations 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. Formerly Head, Sustainability Reporting and Management at SustainAbility Ltd in the UK, Andrea was involved in pioneering early global efforts to improve corporate ESG reporting and helped co-develop the influential concept of the triple bottom line.
Dr Anna Young-Ferris is an Independent Expert at One Stone Advisors and an ESG, climate change and sustainability specialist with over 22 years of corporate and academic experience. She consults to industry leaders providing expert advice on integrating ESG issues into core business strategy. She is an established academic at the University of Sydney Business School and recipient of the 2022 Vice Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Contribution to Sustainability. Her research lies at the nexus of responsible investment and sustainability/carbon accounting, and she leads the integration of the SDGs into the School’s strategy. Previously, she helped build the climate change and sustainability team at Ernst & Young, Sydney.
One Stone Asia Pacific is a purpose-driven, women-owned sustainability advisory firm and certified B Corp specialising in impact measurement and leadership, ESG strategy, planning and engagement. Its mission is to help clients become more effective sustainability leaders, turn challenges into lasting value and create measurable positive impact. As well as working with government, not-for-profit and large and medium corporations to embed ESG leadership, One Stone provides B Consulting expertise to companies seeking certification.


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