Buzzword: Materiality

“Materiality” is a word used frequently in the field of sustainability. Originally, the term was used as an accounting principle in corporate finance.  The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which provides one of the world’s most prevailing standards for sustainability reporting in the business sector, then expanded the definition of the monetary term to include Economic, Social, and Governance factors.

GRI defines materiality as:

“Topics that have a direct or indirect impact on an organization’s ability to create, preserve or erode economic, environmental and social value for itself, its stakeholders and society at large.”

Photo credit: Greenbiz.com

Photo credit: Greenbiz.com

Materiality assessments now line the sustainability reports of multiple preeminent companies like Mark and Spencers, Sprint, Anglo-American, EMC, and Nestle. (See Greenbiz article, “The Core of Materiality?”).

Carol Singer, executive director of National EHS management describes materiality assessments as a method through which an “organization can determine what its significant aspects are and what needs to be managed in its environmental management system.”

To put it more concisely, materiality means “relevance.”

Which kind of sustainability topics are relevant and necessary for the motion picture industry to focus on?  Consider the following:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Recycling systems for props, wardrobe, and set materials.
  • Networks for charitable donation of unrecyclable wardrobe/set materials
  • Alternative fuel for transportation fleet
  • Ensuring low ecological impact at temporary film sites
  • Renewable fuel for generators used for out-of-studio filming.
  • etc.

Alternatively, sustainability topics would likely be very different for the Vancouver aquarium.  A few material topics they might consider important might be:

  • Sustainable sourcing of chum
  • Animal Conservation Networks
  • Sustainable approaches to maintaining species-specific artificial habitats.
  • Etc.

The benefit of a materiality assessment, whether formal or informal, is its ability to help you narrow down which topics/areas of your operations are most worth your time and money to improve. Being conscious of the material aspects of your company or production helps propel your social responsibility efforts and smooth the road to increasing your company’s image and overall value.

Materiality, identifying relevant sustainability topics on which to focus, will slowly move to the forefront of green conversation in the motion picture industry. Keep your ears open!