A Critical Perspective on Sustainability Assurance
Assurance is becoming increasingly popular as a way to enhance the confidence of sustainability reports. But what does assurance of sustainability reports mean? To answer this question, the chapter treats assurance as a word with a regulatory and etymological history, which prescribes a specific and particular interpretation of the term assurance. It is observed that sustainability assurance inherits a specific theory with a particular form of evaluating and making authoritative statements on sustainability practice from (financial) auditing. The theory it draws on is agency theory, and the form of evaluation is the indirect evaluation of statements of compliance with standards instead of a direct assessment of sustainability performance or quality. The chapter suggests that this may be problematic since, although assurance may add credibility and confidence to sustainability reporting it does not challenge the perspectives taken by the company, which, it is argued, was the problem in the first place, as suggested by the Brundtland report. This theory of the practice is, however, not the only interpretation of the word audit. Drawing on alternative historical and etymological meanings of the word audit, the possibilities of other forms of sustainability audit are advanced.
KeywordsAssurance Sustainability Audit Agency theory
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