The Integrated Reporting project of the New Finance research group within the Digital Operations & Finance Centre of Expertise involves the PhD research of Egbert Willekes. In this project, the lecturer-researcher examines how companies can respond to economic, ecological and social values, how they can show their impact on business results by using a good management and accounting system and how they can respond to the needs of stakeholders in a more targeted way.
Make sustainability measurable and understandable and then report on it
Large listed companies have long emphasised the importance of sound financial reporting. After all, the reporting says a lot about the value of the company. In recent years, shareholders’ demand for non-financial information has increased. In addition to economic values, ecological and social values are becoming more important in reporting. However, knowledge of the corresponding management control system, which allows companies to steer towards this multiple value creation, is still very limited and therefore subject to research.
Gain more insight
Integrated reporting is a form of reporting that focuses on multiple value creation. By now many different frameworks and guidelines have been developed to assist companies with this (e.g. IIRC, GRI and SASB). To generate more insight into the different steering mechanisms, the NWO awarded lecturer-researcher Egbert Willekes in 2019 with a grant to fund his PhD research.
In 2019, he prepared his empirical research. In 2020, he conducted 60 interviews with 20 companies to gain insight into how they steer towards sustainable values. These companies are frontrunners in terms of circular, sustainable economy in their specific industry, including Tony Chocolonely, Eosta, De Vegetarische Slager and Signify. The presentation of the initial results reveals a number of intriguing findings:
- The tone at the top is crucial if a company really wants to steer towards sustainable values.
- Most of the above-mentioned companies don't see making sustainable values measurable as a problem.
- Finance & control appears to play a subordinate role in steering towards sustainable values, partly due to a lack of knowledge.
To share as much knowledge about integrated reporting as possible during the research project, Egbert Willekes gives lectures and workshops and writes articles on the topic for national media such as the NRC daily newspaper.
Developing education resources
Integrated reporting is a new theme in finance. So far very few education resources have been developed for this subject. This is also a component of the research project. Egbert played an important role in developing the Circular Economy minor that started at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in 2019. He developed the subject Integrated Reporting for the Finance & Control degree programme. This is now a compulsory main subject in the International Financial Management & Control curriculum, the English-language variant of Finance & Control. Integrated Reporting will also become a compulsory main subject in the Dutch-language variant as of 2022. As little study material is available, the content of the Integrated Reporting subject is largely based on research conducted at companies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The Hague University of Applied Sciences is training additional lecturers to teach Integrated Reporting. As part of his research project, Egbert has so far supervised 9 graduates. One of them remains involved in the project as a student assistant during his master. He will support Egbert with a number of tasks, including promoting the knowledge of integrated reporting within various degree programmes at the Faculty Business, Finance & Marketing.
- As part of his dissertation, in 2019 Egbert Willekes published a white paper entitled ‘Accounting concepten in de circulaire economie’. The article was published on Researchgate and has already received more than 1000 reads.
- The article ‘Triple Depreciation Line’: een effectief wapen tegen greenwashing of een nieuwe accounting fata morgana?, published in the Maandblad voor Accountancy en Bedrijfseconomie.
- Egbert wrote a contribution to the book Duurzaam organiseren; template voor het ontwikkelen van nieuwe businessmodellen (Jan Jonker, Niels Faber e.a.), published by Management Impact. The book has also been published in English and is being developed into a MOOC (massive open online course) in cooperation with other universities of applied sciences and research universities and with Kim Poldner, Circular Business professor. Egbert Willekes and Kim Poldner will also contribute to a number of sections.
- Egbert contributed to the episode 'Kun je sturen op duurzame waarde binnen management control systemen?' (translation: 'Can you steer towards sustainable value within management control systems?') for the Spodlight podcast.
Intended duration of the project
The Integrated Reporting project started on 1 September 2019 and is expected to run until 1 September 2024.
Within The Hague University of Applied Sciences, Egbert Willekes works closely with the Circular Business research group at the Mission Zero Centre of Expertise. The following faculty, minor and degree programmes are also involved:
- Faculty Business, Finance & Marketing
- Circular Economy minor;
- Finance & Control degree programme: main subject: Integrated Reporting;
- international Financial Management & Control degree programme: education module on Integrated Reporting.
His research partners outside THUAS are:
- supervisor Prof. Dr. Jan Jonker, Radboud University Nijmegen;
- co-supervisor Dr Koos Wagensveld, University of Arnhem and Nijmegen (HAN);
- 25 companies where he conducts case studies.
With his PhD research, Egbert Willekes wants to achieve the following results for education, practice and the knowledge domain:
- provide a thorough analysis of the case studies;
- publish a scientific article;
- contribute to the Circular Business minor;
- contribute to the roll-out of the Integrated Reporting main subject;
- supervise graduation theses;
- contribute to the development of the Finance & Control curriculum with the key question: how do we integrate the aspects of sustainability and circular economy into this curriculum?
- successfully defend his dissertation.
Egbert Willekes is a lecturer-researcher within the New Finance research group and the Digital Operations & Finance Centre of Expertise. He is a lecturer in the Finance & Control degree programme within the Faculty Business, Finance & Marketing. He is conducting his PhD research on integrated management control systems.