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Creating a Materiality Matrix for your CSR strategy: A comprehensive guide

In this guide, we walk you through the process of creating a Materiality Matrix – the foundation of any effective Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy.

A Materiality Matrix systematically, methodically, and robustly identifies which topics impact your organisation’s ability to create or threaten social and environmental value for your stakeholders and society.

What’s included:

  • How to get ahead of your competitors and plan your CSR and sustainability strategies based on evidence and stakeholder input.
  • How to anticipate emerging issues, respond to these, and better communicate with stakeholders and customers.
  • A step-by-step guide to creating a comprehensive Materiality Matrix according to your organisation’s priorities.
  • Using surveys to generate robust topics that provide an accurate reflection of importance to your stakeholders.
  • Simple tips for embedding identified priorities and measuring success.
Written by: Nil Khalifa

What does ‘materiality’ mean?

A materiality matrix is the process of knowing the most important topics for the company, based on the business strategy as well as on the stakeholders’ perception of the impacts.

Materiality at a social value level is about the specific impact your business has. It’s about defining where you have an impact, allowing you to take an appropriately targeted approach. More than that, it empowers an organisation to take an individual approach to reporting, focusing on what’s most relevant and important to your organisation and its stakeholders.

The importance of a materiality matrix

Social responsibility goes beyond special budgets, occasions, and one-off activities. Businesses must be conscientious about the power, influence, and resources at their disposal and how these can be utilised to help society at large. Done correctly, brands have the power to transform communities, industries, and even social constructs, creating a better world for everyone.

In this guide, we will take you through the process of creating a Materiality Matrix that can help form the basis of your wider CSR strategy and ultimately create more value for you, your customers, and your community.

Recent CSR developments and statistics you should know

  • Consumers: 85% of consumers have a more positive image of a brand when it supports social or environmental issues and 60% of consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that have dedicated social impact plans.
  • Consumer expectations: A 2024 survey by Nielsen found that 78% of consumers expect companies to act on social justice issues, up from 72% in 2022.
  • Climate action: In 2023, over 90% of global companies reported having climate action plans, reflecting the urgency of addressing climate change.
  • Diversity and inclusion: A 2023 report by McKinsey found that companies with diverse executive teams were 36% more likely to outperform their peers in profitability.
  • Sustainable investments: Sustainable investments grew by 15% in 2023, highlighting increasing investor interest in companies with strong CSR commitments.
  • Investment decisions: 70% of investment decision-makers agree that good sustainability performance is critically important when making investment decisions.

The challenge

With limited resources and a multitude of pressures, where and how is best to focus on improving the world around us? This question challenges CSR managers worldwide. Society, the environment, and the economy are changing rapidly, customers have shifting demands, boards have higher expectations, there are more pressing issues, more inter-relatedness between these issues, greater accountability, and an increasingly saturated CSR marketplace. It’s a recipe for analysis paralysis.

How can organisations get ahead?

The answer is to create a Materiality Matrix!

Creating a Materiality Matrix is something we encourage all organisations to do annually—whether they’re seasoned sustainability and social impact veterans or just starting their journey to corporate responsibility.

It provides an opportunity to systematically, methodologically, and robustly understand which topics impact an organisation’s ability to create or threaten social and environmental value for its customers, stakeholders, and society as a whole.

Rather than relying on existing processes or internalised assumptions, a Materiality Matrix offers you the ability to view your CSR strategy with fresh eyes and, crucially, through the eyes of your stakeholders, to better integrate it into your organisation’s core business strategy.

Step-by-step guide to creating a Materiality Matrix

Step 1: Identify your topics

Within the area of the graph are the ‘topics’ that you’re seeking to prioritise. These might be a predefined list of topics (such as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations or the Standards defined by the Global Reporting Initiative), or a bespoke set of topics defined by your organisation.

Once completed, the topics closest to the top-right corner of the graph are those that your organisation should focus on to the greatest extent in defining its CSR strategy and deployment of resources. The horizontal axis and vertical axis are the two criteria against which you should assess each topic, and what defines how close to the top-right corner they appear. Regardless of your approach, these two axes will always pertain to the topics’ impact on the business or importance to staff, stakeholders, or society.

If, for example, the two most important considerations in defining your CSR strategy are the importance to customers and its impact on society, you would then methodically work through each topic and, on a scale of 1-10, quantify how important that topic is to your customers, and how impactful it is to society. If it is very important to your customers but doesn’t impact hugely on society, it might appear towards the top-left of your graph. If it does impact society hugely but isn’t hugely important to your customers in the context of your product or service, it would appear in the bottom right. If, however, it is both impactful and important, the topic would appear in the top-right corner and should be prioritised in your CSR strategy.

Step 2: Engage and survey your stakeholders

An early and critical step in this process is to engage with your stakeholders. Their perspective is vital in understanding the significance of various sustainability issues. These stakeholders might include customers, employees, suppliers, investors, community members, and regulatory bodies. Through surveys, interviews, and focus groups, you can gather valuable insights about their concerns and priorities.

Tips for conducting a survey

  • Ask a wide group: Ask as wide, as large, and as representative a group of your specified stakeholder group as possible and practicable.
  • Segment your stakeholders: Where possible and where relevant, make sure that you’re able to segment your stakeholders—for example, ensuring you have the ability, upon analysis, to differentiate between responses from existing customers, board members, and the general public.
  • Use simple, standardised questions: Your question wording needs to be as simple, standardised, and consistent as possible. For example: “On a scale of 1-10, where 0 is not at all and 10 is very much, how important do you consider each of the following topics to be?”
  • Use a survey tool: For maximum reach and ease of analysis, we recommend you conduct your survey online—using tools like Impact’s embedded surveying tool.

Step 3: Embed your priorities

Creating your own Materiality Matrix is only the beginning of the journey. Once you have your 3-5 priority topics, the key for your organisation is to embed these. CSR strategies should not be seen as a siloed, separated section of your organisation; rather, it is something to be integrated into every element of the business, from board level and managerial processes, through the supply chain and Human Resources, to extracurricular initiatives and environmental activities. It is something that we encourage you to consider at every juncture and during every strategic business decision, even outside of a strictly ‘CSR setting’.

Step 4: Measure your success

If you’ve got to this point, you’re well on the way to having a brilliant, positive impact. But there’s no way of knowing for sure—and there’s certainly no way of shouting about it—unless you’re properly, defensibly, consistently capturing and measuring the outcomes of those topic areas.

Ask yourself the following questions for each topic:

  • Activities: What are you currently doing to help improve/achieve this? What activities, specifically, are you doing—be honest.
  • Metrics: What tangible, measurable metrics can be used to understand the success of those activities? How are you tracking these, and are you using the right converters?
  • Evidence: Does it make more sense to communicate the qualitative stories or the quantitative metrics? Are you looking for a year-on-year improvement, a percentage achievement, or an absolute target?

Single, impact, or double materiality?

  • Single Materiality: This requires you to consider the impact of sustainability issues on your organisation’s financial performance. It’s what you’ll often see in traditional financial reporting. If an issue could have a significant financial impact on your business, then it’s considered material.
  • Impact materiality: This type of materiality gets you thinking about the impact of sustainability-related issues on your company’s stakeholders and wider society. Unlike single materiality, this encourages you to think outside of your business and consider the impact you have on the world around you.
  • Double materiality: A combination of both single and impact materiality. It requires your organisation to consider the impact of sustainability-related issues on its finances and performance, as well as how your daily actions impact and influence the wider economy and society. Double materiality provides a more thorough view of your sustainability and is increasingly being adopted in global reporting standards.

Conclusion

A well-crafted materiality matrix is more than just a tool for sustainability reporting—it’s a strategic asset that guides your CSR efforts and helps integrate these into your core business operations. By focusing on the issues that matter most to your stakeholders and have the most significant impact, you can create a CSR strategy that is both effective and meaningful. Regularly updating your Materiality Matrix ensures that your strategy remains relevant and responsive to changing circumstances and stakeholder expectations.

If you have any questions about Materiality Matrices or about planning or measuring your CSR strategy, don’t hesitate to get in touch!