Advancing Sustainability Reporting in SMEs: Challenges and Opportunities in the Modern Landscape


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The advent of digitalization has profoundly affected how organizations conduct their business and build and maintain relationships with stakeholders (de Villiers et al., 2021; Lombardi and Secundo, 2021; Mancini et al., 2021). In particular, the introduction of new technologies such as big data analytics, blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, social media communication, artificial intelligence and machine learning has triggered a gradual re-configuration of accounting information systems, including sustainability reporting practices (Pham and Vu, 2022; Broccardo et al., 2023). This is because they facilitate and improve the measurement, collection, analysis, communication and assurance of data and information related to sustainability and, ultimately, the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Particularly, integrating these technologies into sustainability reporting processes is deemed a potential solution to overcome potential sustainability reports’ drawbacks like credibility, comparability and greenwashing (Leitner-Hanetseder and Lehner, 2022; Pizzi et al., 2023). For example, blockchain ensures transparency and traceability along the entire sustainability supply chain (Xu et al., 2019), and artificial intelligence supports collecting and processing Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) data for sustainability reports (de Villiers et al., 2021), while social media represent an additional communication channel to increase engagement with corporate stakeholders on sustainability issues (L'Abate et al., 2023). 
Although the advent of digitalization has significant consequences for the sustainability reporting practices of all companies, it has posed particular challenges for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs represent the backbone of the European Union's (EU) productive economic fabric, as they constitute almost 99% of all European enterprises, provide two-thirds of jobs in the private sector and contribute to more than half of the overall European gross domestic product (Galli et al., 2023; EU, 2023). Moreover, they are involved in the supply chain of several multinational companies operating in different sectors, significantly contributing to carbon dioxide emissions and environmental pollution at large (Parker et al., 2009; Massa et al., 2015; Corazza, 2019). These circumstances are evidence of how SMEs hugely impact society in economic terms and from a social and environmental perspective (Carbone et al., 2012; Corazza, 2019). Therefore, disruptive technologies may represent a vehicle for SMEs to deal with emerging sustainability issues arising from the 2030 Agenda (UN, 2015), Paris Agreement, and Green Deal and incorporate social and environmental concerns into their management and reporting processes (Castilla-Polo and Guerrero-Baena, 2023; Galli et al., 2023). 
From an academic standpoint, despite the topic's relevance, scholars are still lagging behind empirical research linking digital technologies, sustainability reporting, and SMEs. In the last years, studies started to investigate pros and cons of implementing sustainability reporting practices in the SMEs’ context (e.g., Borga et al., 2009; Massa et al., 2015; Del Baldo et al., 2017; Lee et al., 2017; Corazza, 2019; Galli et al., 2023; Castilla-Polo and Guerrero-Baena, 2023). Nevertheless, the results are inconclusive, and the debate is still fervent. In particular, a need emerged to investigate the role that emerging digital technologies may play in the sustainability reporting processes of SMEs.

List of Topic Areas

  • Impact of digital technologies on SMEs' sustainability reporting practices: challenges and opportunities for users and preparers; 
  • Digitalization of sustainability reporting practices and the new Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive: implications for SMEs; 
  • Digital sustainability reporting, double materiality, and SMEs; 
  • Digital technologies and sustainability reporting standards adoption in SMEs; 
  • Digital technologies and stakeholders' engagement in SMEs; 
  • Big data, analytics, social media, and SMEs' sustainability disclosure practices; 
  • Digital technologies and SDGs performance measurement and reporting in SMEs; 
  • Digital technologies and governance mechanisms to support SMEs' sustainability reporting practices; 
  • Digital technologies and sustainability reporting assurance in SMEs.

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Key Deadlines

Opening date for manuscripts submissions: 01/10/2024 
Closing date for manuscripts submission: 31/01/2025