2014-2015 Materiality Assessment

Citizenship and sustainability materiality assessment highlights Nielsen’s responsibility to its stakeholders

In 2014, Nielsen began a formal non-financial materiality assessment to determine the citizenship and sustainability issues that are most critical to our business and to our stakeholders. Our primary motivation was to review and benchmark our citizenship and sustainability efforts, enhance our reporting, and update our strategies and programs to reflect our stakeholder needs and business priorities. We also wanted to identify any potential risks and opportunities, along with any emerging issues that could affect Nielsen’s business success and stakeholder relationships in the future.

At Nielsen, we broadly define “corporate citizenship and sustainability” across the economic, social, environmental and governance aspects of the company, including but not limited to our Corporate Social Responsibility, Diversity and Inclusion, Environmental Sustainability, Labor Practices, Procurement and Economic Impacts.


The Corporate Social Responsibility team compiled all source documentation and feedback and convened to map the top issues on a matrix with two axes: “Impact on Nielsen” and “Importance to Stakeholders.”

Ranking methodology involved both quantitative and qualitative considerations. Intensity was measured based on evaluation of importance to stakeholders. Qualitative insights were provided by direct or indirect comments. Employee input included feedback from associates both as company representatives but also as individuals with personal concerns. Senior company executive input primarily reflected company-related insights.

A materiality matrix was created by staff that streamlined the larger list and narrowed the top 12 issues ranked by stakeholder importance against the impact on Nielsen’s business. The top 12 issues reflected a compilation of separate issues raised by stakeholders. These areas are defined below to reflect more granular stakeholder feedback and to explain further how Nielsen views its responsibility to address the issues.

Priority was given to issues that Nielsen can take action to address. Any issue on our matrix should be considered important to the company, regardless of its place on the matrix. We have also designated when an issue is rising in prominence due to external market factors.

Top issues identified by the materiality assessment process

Data privacy, security and integrity*

Nielsen has a responsibility to scrupulously manage the data it collects. This includes the protection of privacy for our clients, employees and consumers, securing the data so that it is accessible only to those authorized to see it and ensuring that the data is accurate, representative and trustworthy.  Nielsen has observed a global rise in consumer, legal and regulatory issues around the collection, use and access of data, and our stakeholders have expressed concerns about how the data is protected. Nielsen’s current privacy practices are described in our privacy policy.

Business ethics and integrity

As a global company, Nielsen’s business practices must operate ethically and legally around the world. This includes upholding principles of anti-corruption, ethical competition, legal and regulatory compliance, protecting our employees and conducting our business honestly. As we continue to expand globally, we must ensure that our high ethical standards are maintained across all the locations where we do business. This includes employees and our business partners, who must comply with the principles listed in our Code of Conduct and our Supplier Code

Market responsiveness and proactivity

Stakeholder feedback challenged us to maintain a proactive and responsive leadership position in the marketplace by anticipating demographic changes, market shifts and media changes to drive customer satisfaction. Our obligation to our clients is to not only deliver useable, practical and meaningful tools for our clients, to help them measure and improve their performance by providing a total view of the consumer, but also to help markets operate more efficiently as a whole. Beyond this core obligation, we recognize our responsibility to lead and participate in ongoing, long-term conversations in the larger ecosystem in which we operate. This includes the need to remain proactively attuned to the factors that could advance the long-term growth of markets. We recognize that as markets grow, Nielsen has a key role to play in the measurement of consumption and subsequent client investment. Aspects of this issue include the development of new technology, quick response times, understanding the emerging trends around media and audience fragmentation, industry vertical expertise, and research adaptations across geographic and market borders. To meet these expectations, we will continue to consider new ways to interact with clients, business partners, suppliers and others who can augment our expertise.  Trends that will affect our market position are listed in our 2015 10-K, p 8.

Product and service responsibility

We recognize that we have a responsibility to the markets in which we operate to deliver timely, accurate and insightful research using representative sampling that reflects demographic diversity, along with analysis that frames our data in a useful and responsible way. We also challenge ourselves to find innovative ways to use data for social and environmental good. We must remain vigilant in protecting the data we collect to ensure that it is not compromised or misused by others. We recognize that these and other obligations are not only core to our business, but are also fundamental to our commitment to being a good corporate citizen.

Employee relations

We have a responsibility to provide a safe, healthy and fair work environment for our employees. We also want to provide career and education opportunities, compensate fairly, demonstrate support for diversity and inclusion, and encourage employee satisfaction. Our Nielsen employees cited the desire for greater engagement in decisions that affect them, including, but not limited to, maintaining a flexible work environment, enhancing their work spaces and equipment, travel safety, improving their advancement opportunities, and sharing best practices.

As we move into more geographies and increase our field employee staff in emerging markets, we anticipate that new labor-related issues may need our consideration (such as those defined by ILO labor standards and UN conventions). We recognize that in order to continue to grow around the world, we need to continue to find innovative ways to hire and train employees with the right skills, expertise, and gain insight into the local communities in which we operate. Developing markets represent approximately 20% of our 2013 revenues and a significant long-term opportunity for us, given the growth of the middle class and the rapid evolution and modernization of the retail trade in these regions.

All of these issues affect not only the happiness and retention of our existing employees but also the talent we can attract in the future. We expect that this will remain a top priority for our company going forward.

Company integration

During 2013 and 2014, Nielsen acquired a number of companies that expand our capabilities and geographic reach. As these new companies integrate into Nielsen, we will make sure that we share best practices and that all of our employees see themselves as valued contributors to Nielsen’s future. We recognize that a unified Nielsen will help us continue to deliver on our mission to provide clients with outstanding service, tools and solutions. Our One Nielsen mindset promotes this integration on an ongoing basis with the goal of upholding our shared values of Simple, Open and Integrated.

Because our core values are central to our people and our business, we need to continually reaffirm our commitment to each of these values, particularly with regard to integration of our products and services to create the most comprehensive and insightful outcomes for our clients and stakeholders. Through our value of Integrated, we collaborate to find new opportunities to drive success for our clients, our associates and our shareholders, endeavoring to do all of this in the simplest way possible.

Stakeholder feedback from employees in particular included a desire for more collaboration, communication and recognition of best practices.

Public policy

Nielsen’s Public Policy and Government Affairs team interacts with government and elected officials to explain our products and advocate for policies that promote the use of measurement to create thriving markets and communities. Various statutes and rules regulate conduct in areas such as tax, intellectual property, commerce, and privacy and data protection. In particular, privacy and data protection affect our collection, use, storage and transfer of personally identifiable information both abroad and in the United States.

Compliance with these laws may require us to make certain investments or may dictate that we not offer certain types of services or only offer such services after making necessary modifications. Failure to comply with these laws may result in, among other things, civil and criminal liability, negative publicity, data being blocked from use, and liability under contractual warranties. In addition, there is an increasing public concern regarding data and consumer protection issues, and the number of jurisdictions with data protection laws has been increasing. There is also the possibility that the scope of existing privacy laws may be expanded.

We also recognize that we have an ongoing obligation to educate the public about Nielsen’s consumer and audience measurement methodologies and practices. We do this not only to ensure the viability of our panels and other assets going forward, but also to empower consumers to better understand the impact of their consumption habits on market trends.

Responsible growth and supplier accountability

Our growth plans include expansion around the world, utilizing our own assets as well as those of other trusted business partners. We have Codes of Conduct and other programs in place to ensure that our suppliers behave ethically and in the best interest of our customers and consumers. We also want our business partners to share our values of respecting diversity and human rights and to operate accordingly. We want to help establish new standards for our industry, support positive public policy around consumer research and use the data we collect for public good. In doing all of this, we hope to enable our clients to better position both their citizenship and sustainability programs along with their products and services for long-term growth and success.


Transparency is essential to assure our clients and other stakeholders that our research methodologies, data and insights are accurate and trustworthy. This includes our processes, our methodologies and our quality assurance controls. We heard from our stakeholders that they would like Nielsen to continue to be active and transparent particularly in the areas of privacy and social good. We recognize that transparency will remain a critical part of our efforts in these areas, and the importance of transparency across our business and operations will continue to grow globally. Transparency is important not only as consumers rapidly change how they watch media and buy goods, but also as we continue our core commitment to representative sampling.

Community impact*

Nielsen’s community impact ranges from its role as a good corporate citizen and employer to its generosity as a philanthropist, its engagement in skills-based volunteerism and its participation in in-kind giving with nonprofits. Increasingly, we also recognize that our research expertise can provide insights to community leaders and governments, in the US and abroad, about how to identify and scope societal problems, improve the efficiency of their programs and gauge impact. We are also aware that the data we collect from individuals in the community must be protected and used carefully no matter what the circumstances, as we understand our responsibility relates to ensuring the accurate representation of all communities. Stakeholders expressed appreciation for Nielsen’s existing community efforts but challenged us to do and report more.

Learn more about Nielsen’s current community programs >

Data use*

The ubiquity of data in today’s world requires our attention to ensure that data is used as promised and in the interest of promoting social good when possible. Stakeholders across groups expressed their expectation that Nielsen should be aware of how the data it collects is being used across many contexts, from our value-added resellers to our clients and nonprofit collaborators, and to seek projects that create positive social, environmental and business value.

Energy, travel and waste

stakeholders and internal experts. These three distinct issues generally reflect the material environmental issues of other Professional Services firms, and we recognize that Nielsen has an opportunity to expand on our commitment to reduce our environmental footprint. Analysis continues to fully quantify and report the significance of each of these issues for Nielsen. Nielsen’s energy use is both direct (consumed at its company-owned offices and data centers) and indirect (shared and/or contracted data center use). Water use is not significant at this time in terms of Nielsen’s direct operations, however, it is recognized as a societal issue that affects our employees around the world.  One element of our stakeholder feedback was the desire for Nielsen to report more detailed environmental data about our global operations so we can better understand the company’s impact.

Citizenship and Sustainability Materiality Matrix

Source: Feedback was solicited from source documentation and more than 200 internal and external stakeholders on a broad range of topics, including our company’s impact on the environment, society and the economy.

How we did it

Our approach

We have chosen the Global Reporting Initiatives guidelines for our non-financial materiality assessment process because it is the most internationally-recognized framework for sustainability reporting, and we believe that it provides the most comprehensive framework to capture the scope and scale of Nielsen’s business. The assessment was conducted in late 2014 and early 2015 by our internal Corporate Social Responsibility staff, who enlisted the expertise of an external materiality expert to assist in ranking the issues and evaluating their relative importance to stakeholders and impact on our company. Our assessment and materiality matrix include the views of many of our stakeholders and has been reviewed by senior leadership, including our CEO.

We solicited feedback from more than 200 internal and external stakeholders (detailed below) on a broad range of topics, including our company’s impact on the environment, society and the economy. We also reviewed extensive source documentation, including media reports, client and employee feedback, legal proceedings, independent website commentary, panelist feedback and social media to supplement the direct interviews we conducted. Finally, we took into account our knowledge of Nielsen’s mission, business forecasts, strategic growth plans and resources to determine how this stakeholder feedback interacted with Nielsen’s plans for long-term business success. Financial viability and shareholder return were assumed to be evergreen issues that were not included on the matrix but are included in our 10-K. The scope and boundary of this assessment included stakeholders directly affected by Nielsen’s operations, resources, financial viability and products and services. We collected data for this assessment during 2014 and 2015. This is Nielsen’s first GRI Non-Financial Materiality Assessment.

We considered the impact that we have on the communities in which we live and work around the world as a multinational corporation, and we also considered the impact we have as a partner with companies that use our data and research findings. We examined our responsibility for the actions of our third-party suppliers who solicit data on our behalf, and we also incorporated—through both direct and indirect feedback—the opinions of the companies we have recently acquired and the full range of our clients across geographies, industries and size. Through all of this research we remained mindful of Nielsen’s responsibility to respond proactively to external market and industry changes. In order to provide additional context and recognize industry best practices, we also looked at our market peers and sustainability leaders to see how they have reported relevant issues.

The findings of this assessment will be used to determine whether our actions and resource allocations align with stakeholder expectations and also whether we have neglected an issue that deserves company attention. By ranking and prioritizing issues across both their impact on our company and stakeholder importance, we have a guide to be more impactful and responsive to environmental, economic and social needs through our corporate citizenship and sustainability programs, now and in the future.

We plan to publish a more comprehensive sustainability report in 2016 to further outline our intentions, actions, and results for addressing stakeholder concerns.

Identifying stakeholders

The assessment team identified internal and external stakeholders who were directly affected by Nielsen’s operations. These included both representatives and proxies for clients, current and former Nielsen employees, research panelists, key tier-one suppliers, company leadership, value-added data resellers, investors, advisory councils, government representatives and regulators, consumers, policy and key subject matter area experts and other external influencers, both within and beyond our industry.

Nielsen also identified sustainability leadership organizations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index to solicit insights into external market conditions, expectations about corporate citizenship and sustainability and the material issues and areas on which a Professional Services company like Nielsen should focus. Subject matter experts were also consulted, especially in the areas of diversity and inclusion, as well as legal and regulatory issues around data use and privacy.

Internally, our stakeholder sample included but was not limited to: C-suite executives (including our CEO), top functional executives, international and U.S.-based field employees and remote workers and all other relevant employee groups, along with the company’s Global Citizenship & Sustainability Council, representing cross-functional leaders in key citizenship and sustainability areas. Stakeholders identified for feedback also included a cross section of employees from recent acquisitions/joint ventures and a variety of geographic backgrounds.

Stakeholder analysis

Nielsen used its research expertise to collect direct feedback via surveys, focus groups, social media platforms, interviews and meetings in late 2014 and early 2015. In some cases, the viewpoints of stakeholders were solicited by proxy from both internal and external experts. Additional source documents such as media reports, external websites and social media commentary were also reviewed.

In some cases, feedback was guided by topic to ensure that “corporate citizenship and sustainability” was broadly defined across economic, social, environmental and governance aspects of the company. Unsolicited topics were also recorded and considered.

As a result of this review process, more than 50 issues were catalogued. In some cases, the team sought out additional clarification and feedback from stakeholders in order to better understand the issues raised.

Altogether, the assessment team conducted more than 30 interviews and engaged more than 200 internal and external stakeholders. The same team reviewed more than 50 source documents representing key groups.

What’s next?

Nielsen plans to continue to use feedback from this assessment to ensure ongoing improvement for our company’s global operations and strategic priorities and programs. Feedback from this assessment is now being used to evaluate how well our current programs are addressing these top issues. We are also meeting with our management team to determine if additional initiatives should be addressed. The results of this evaluation will be presented in our future sustainability reporting.

To learn more about existing programs addressing each of our Top 12 issues, please visit Nielsen’s Year in Review and Responsibility and Sustainability.