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Voluntarism versus regulation: Lessons from public disclosure of environmental performance information in Norwegian companies

Even Fallan (KPMG, Trondheim, Norway)
Lars Fallan (Trondheim Business School, Sør‐Trøndelag University College, Trondheim, Norway)

Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change

ISSN: 1832-5912

Article publication date: 30 October 2009

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore the development of environmental disclosure during periods of voluntarism and during periods with changed statutory requirements. More specific, the question is how volume and content variety of environmental disclosure in financial statements are immediately affected by statutory regulations.

Design/methodology/approach

In order to compare the effects of such regulations with the development in environmental disclosure during periods without any changes in statutory requirements, a longitudinal study is conducted to test five specific hypotheses. A quasi‐experiment with pre‐ and post‐testing of disclosure volume and content variety is carried out to test the effects of the statutory changes.

Findings

The most important lesson from this paper is the significance of the voluntary approach to improve the variety of environmental disclosure. The present paper supports the claim of voluntarism that companies will meet the heterogeneous requirements of their stakeholders without any governmental regulations. No statutory regulations are needed to make the companies increase and adapt their environmental disclosure to the demand from their stakeholders and legitimate their existence towards society. The present paper has revealed that the regulation approach has a significant, immediate effect on mandatory environmental disclosure only, and that companies do not fully comply with such statutory regulations.

Research limitations/implications

There is no universal notion of voluntarism. Different countries and societies have different legal requirements and political cultures regarding voluntarism. That is, voluntary reporting in Norway is affected by the national statutory requirements and may be underpinned by a certain set of societal responsibilities that may or may not exist elsewhere. Further research is needed to see whether these findings are readily generalized or whether they should only be interpreted in light of local considerations.

Originality/value

This is the first comprehensive study of the development of environmental disclosure in Norwegian companies. A total of 822 financial statements and annual reports, during the period between 1987 and 2005, are analysed.

Keywords

Citation

Fallan, E. and Fallan, L. (2009), "Voluntarism versus regulation: Lessons from public disclosure of environmental performance information in Norwegian companies", Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change, Vol. 5 No. 4, pp. 472-489. https://doi.org/10.1108/18325910910994685

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited