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Research Tool - Impact Areas

Impact Area Selection

What is impact area selection?

Impact area selection is the process of deciding which impacts are going to be investigated in a given assessment. Because this selection is highly relevant for the assessment results, the selection process should be systematic, transparent and well documented. The rationale on which the selection is based should be purely thematic, i.e. based on the question which impacts are likely to be affected. 

Selecting impact areas based on data availability will not produce reliable assessment results that are suited to evaluate sustainability or compare options.

How can impact areas be selected systematically?

Impact areas likely to be affected by an option may be identified through a (short) literature review, expert consultation, or a combination of both approaches.
Ideally, stakeholders are also involved in the process to add their perspective as to what impacts should be considered. For including stakeholders’ views, assessments may adapt an approach applied in sustainability reporting, which is called “materiality analysis”. It is used to identify topics for reporting that are material (i.e. relevant) and rank them according to their importance. Only the material topics are be reported and the ranking determines the amount of detail with which each topic is covered (GRI Standards, 2018). For a materiality analysis, the Global Reporting Initiative recommends to create a matrix (see figure 8), where one axis represents the expected seriousness of economic, ecological or social impacts and the other axis represents the importance of the respective impact area for stakeholders. Impact areas that score high on either of the axes are considered material (GRI Standards, 2018).

impact area selection
Figure 8: GRI materiality matrix (GRI Standards, 2018)

A materiality analysis always needs to be performed for a specific assessment, because the impact areas identified and the prioritization derived are based on the socio-economic and geophysical conditions at a certain point in time and space. Therefore, results of materiality analyses cannot be readily transferred to similar assessments at other locations. Even at the same location, the relevance of impact areas and their respective priorities may change over times due to the dynamics of norms and values, as well as due to advances in knowledge.



Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). 2018. GRI Standards. Online: https://bit.ly/2ePTyM3 (accessed 09 August 2019)