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Conceptualising future change in corporate sustainability reporting

Carol A. Adams (La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia)
Glen Whelan (Nottingham University Business School, Nottingham, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 2 January 2009

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to conceptualise how future changes in corporate social disclosure (CSD), aimed at improving accountability for corporate performance to key stakeholder groups, might be brought about.

Design/methodology/approach

Drawing on the work of the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises with respect to human (and organisational) action and the work of Leon Festinger and Kurt Lewin with respect to human (and organisational) change, the paper examines how academics and other corporate stakeholders might effect changes in CSD.

Findings

Managers act in a way which maximises their formal happiness (from von Mises) and change occurs following the creation of cognitive dissonance (Festinger) which leads to “unfreezing” (Lewin). Stakeholders can effect change by creating cognitive dissonance. With specific reference to Anglo‐American limited liability and publicly traded corporations, such cognitive dissonance and unfreezing normally involves a perceived threat to profitability.

Research limitations/implications

Research and theorising in corporate social disclosure patterns should take as given: that the managers of Anglo‐American limited liability and publicly traded corporations continue to be strongly encouraged, via both legal and remunerative means, to maximize shareholder wealth; and that this state of affairs significantly influences the information which management choose to disclose. Future research might instead examine and consider means of creating sources of dissonance significant enough to result in managerial concern for change within the constraints imposed on managers of Anglo‐American corporations. Such research might be conducted by engaging with organisations and their stakeholders.

Practical implications

The findings have implications for the manner in which corporate stakeholders act and interrelate with others in order to effect change towards more complete and credible sustainability reports which demonstrate accountability for material impacts to key stakeholder groups.

Originality/value

The paper focuses on how change in corporate behaviour might be brought about given the personal motivations and institutional constraints imposed on the behaviour of corporate actors.

Keywords

Citation

Adams, C.A. and Whelan, G. (2009), "Conceptualising future change in corporate sustainability reporting", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 118-143. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513570910923033

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited