Call for Proposals: Sustainability Reporting

Call for Proposals: Sustainability Reporting

A Call for Proposals for Research on Sustainability Reporting
NBS November 21, 2014
Question: How can businesses effectively report sustainability activities and impacts to meet their stakeholders' informational needs?

Funding: $15,000 USD to cover expenses. Budgets exceeding this amount will be considered.

Proposal Deadline: July 6, 2015.

Project Timeline: The project will begin in July 2015. The final report will be due in February 2016. Dissemination efforts will continue throughout 2016.

Contact: Please direct any questions and submit your proposal to

Scope of Research

Reporting sustainability activities and impacts, whether internal to an organization or those that occur along the supply chain, is a key element of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Reporting, however, becomes burdensome for managers as potential audiences increase and expectations, requirements, and standards (e.g. UNPRI, GRI) proliferate. Reporting efforts are costly, yet managers are often unsure reports are reaching desired audiences.

Managers want to know how to report their organization’s sustainability practices and impacts to their stakeholders to achieve their desired level of information sharing.

This project aims to uncover how sustainability reporting can achieve the goal of communicating a wide range of sustainability-related activities in a way that meets the informational needs of a wide range of audiences. The research team, potentially drawing from research in accounting, communications, sensemaking, CSR reporting, and strategy, should explore not only traditional reporting activities, such as publication/submission of hardcopy and electronic reports, but also real-time updating through new media and other contemporary and innovative forms of communications. The team is expected to review past literature as well as collect and analyse primary data.[1]

The overarching research question is: 
The scope of this question is intentionally wide and spans academic disciplines, offering the research team flexibility to shape the direction of the research. We seek motivated researchers who are experienced in reporting, communications, and/or a related domain of scholarship, along with an interest in sustainability or CSR. Multidisciplinary teams are encouraged to apply. The research team should demonstrate the ability to publish high quality research and must be excited about collaborating with industry managers to produce knowledge that is also relevant to practice.

[1] This emphasis on primary data collection departs from NBS’s past emphasis on systematic reviews

Research Design and Process

The core deliverable of this project is a research report that reviews current research, identifies gaps, and uses primary data and analysis to fill the gaps. The final output must not only meet the rigors of high quality research, but also must be relevant to practice.

This project is a collaborative endeavour between industry managers and academic researchers. NBS will facilitate the connection of the research team with its Leadership Council organizations as potential sites for data collection, but the research team is encouraged to find the right data sources to meet the project’s question. 

To ensure success, the research team will receive (a) conceptual support from an established scholar in the field of sustainability reporting, (b) guidance from a committee of industry managers, and (c) administrative, editing, communications, and design support from NBS managers. This is a collaborative venture that, with support from NBS, has the potential to have significant impact on the field of research and practice.

The successful research team will retain intellectual property rights to the work and is encouraged to publish in academic journals and present at industry forums. Any publications or presentations stemming from this work must acknowledge NBS. NBS will also produce and disseminate spinoffs from the research to managerial audiences, acknowledging the researchers' contributions. 

Proposal Requirements

All communications will be in English, including the proposals and project deliverables. Proposals must have one lead researcher who is solely accountable for the deliverables and communications. We encourage applicants to involve students in the project. Proposals should be limited to the following sections:

a) Proposed Research Design (no more than 1,500 words) 
b) Team Expertise (no more than 500 words per researcher): Description of each team member’s experience and expertise related to this project. Please show the research team has the skill set necessary both to conduct academic research and communicate effectively with business practitioners.

c) Curriculum vitae for the lead researcher. 

Proposal Evaluation

In addition to review by NBS managers, a Guidance Committee composed of industry managers will evaluate each proposal. They will respond most favourably to proposals that are clear and have the greatest potential to impact practice.

The evaluation criteria are: Ability to communicate with, and impact, business practitioner audiences

About the Projects

The Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) funds systematic reviews and research projects based on the top priorities for business sustainability identified by its Leadership Council. These projects have two objectives: 
  1. Inform business sustainability practice and policy by providing decision-makers with rigorous, research-based solutions to the questions of sustainability
  2. Facilitate the development of business sustainability knowledge by describing the state of the existing body of literature, identifying important gaps, and filling those gaps by generating new thinking based on real-time data from the field.
NBS projects provide an opportunity for researchers to interact with leading companies and to shape practice by addressing a topic of significant concern to executives. Most researchers publish their research in top quality journals in their discipline. As well, NBS helps to ensure the final deliverables are disseminated worldwide to managers through NBS and its partner institutions. NBS’s network includes: our Leadership Council, which defines NBS Canada’s research priorities and provides leadership to CSR managers and researchers; our Industry Association Council, through which associations representing 40,000 firms work together on challenging sustainability issues; and our network of more than 125 academic sustainability centers around the world.

Related Resources

Reports and Articles

Sustainability reporting can be a valuable tool for managing performance.

Maya Fischhoff
Garima Sharma
Reports and Articles

Effective sustainability reporting is about managing performance. New NBS resources show how to make your reporting organizationally relevant.

Reports and Articles

CSR reporting has become the norm for any company committed to responsible business practice. But, when done incorrectly, reporting can do more harm than good.

Lauren Turner