Practitioners’ views on intellectual capital and sustainability: From a performance-based to a worth-based perspective

Maurizio Massaro*, John Dumay, Andrea Garlatti, Francesca Dal Mas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to investigate the relationship between intellectual capital (IC) and sustainability using practitioners’ perspectives and by developing an analysis of comments and practices published in 1,651 blog posts in one of the leading sources of sustainability research: 

Design/methodology/approach: A total of 1,651 posts, containing more than 1.5 million words, published by experts in the field of sustainability are analysed using Leximancer and content analysis.

Findings: The results reveal IC and sustainability to be complex topics under active discussion by practitioners, and several links to the IC literature are identified and compared. The findings focus on the managerial practices applied by leading companies, as discussed by practitioners, that show IC and sustainability influence each other in answering a plurality of demands or logics.

Research limitations/implications: First, the authors identify the need to study the managerial practices proposed by practitioners, rather than their company reports. Second, the authors propose developing a trading zone for IC researchers and practitioners. Third, the authors reflect on the role of new communication tools, such as integrated reporting, to connect IC and sustainability. Finally, the authors conclude that the relationship between IC and sustainability could benefit from a fifth stage of IC research that considers justifications of the worth of IC and sustainability practices.

Originality/value: The paper is novel because it addresses concerns about the relationship between IC and sustainability by examining messages posted by practitioners, rather than examining company disclosures. This leads to an understanding of the impact of practices rather than the desires motivating practice. The results support the view that it is time to remove the boundaries of IC research and work towards reconciling the worth of IC to different people in different contexts. The authors argue that practitioners require scholars to reduce the ambiguity between IC and its expected results. This would open the door to a potentially productive way of understanding IC and the complexity of economic, social, and environmental value. In short, researchers should change their research questions from, “What is IC worth to investors, customers, society, and the environment?” to “Is managing IC a worthwhile endeavour?”.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-386
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Intellectual Capital
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Fifth-stage intellectual capital
  • Intellectual capital
  • Performance
  • Practitioners
  • Sustainable development
  • Worth


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