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Does stakeholder pressure influence corporate GHG emissions reporting? Empirical evidence from Europe

Andrea Liesen (Umeå School of Business and Economics, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden)
Andreas G. Hoepner (ICMA Centre, Henley Business School, University of Reading, Reading, UK)
Dennis M. Patten (Department of Accounting, Illinois State University, Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, USA)
Frank Figge (KEDGE Business School Marseille France)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 21 September 2015

6982

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to seek to shed light on the practice of incomplete corporate disclosure of quantitative Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and investigates whether external stakeholder pressure influences the existence, and separately, the completeness of voluntary GHG emissions disclosures by 431 European companies.

Design/methodology/approach

A classification of reporting completeness is developed with respect to the scope, type and reporting boundary of GHG emissions based on the guidelines of the GHG Protocol, Global Reporting Initiative and the Carbon Disclosure Project. Logistic regression analysis is applied to examine whether proxies for exposure to climate change concerns from different stakeholder groups influence the existence and/or completeness of quantitative GHG emissions disclosure.

Findings

From 2005 to 2009, on average only 15 percent of companies that disclose GHG emissions report them in a manner that the authors consider complete. Results of regression analyses suggest that external stakeholder pressure is a determinant of the existence but not the completeness of emissions disclosure. Findings are consistent with stakeholder theory arguments that companies respond to external stakeholder pressure to report GHG emissions, but also with legitimacy theory claims that firms can use carbon disclosure, in this case the incomplete reporting of emissions, as a symbolic act to address legitimacy exposures.

Practical implications

Bringing corporate GHG emissions disclosure in line with recommended guidelines will require either more direct stakeholder pressure or, perhaps, a mandated disclosure regime. In the meantime, users of the data will need to carefully consider the relevance of the reported data and develop the necessary competencies to detect and control for its incompleteness. A more troubling concern is that stakeholders may instead grow to accept less than complete disclosure.

Originality/value

The paper represents the first large-scale empirical study into the completeness of companies’ disclosure of quantitative GHG emissions and is the first to analyze these disclosures in the context of stakeholder pressure and its relation to legitimation.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank seminar participants at CSEAR 2011, BAFA 2011, PRI Scotland 2012, Amsterdam Business School and the School of Management at St Andrews. This paper furthermore highly benefited from the insights of Ralf Barkemeyer, Jan Bebbington, Tobias Hahn, Vincent O ' Connell, Brandon O ' Dwyer, Niahm O ' Sullivan and Jeffrey Unerman. The authors are thankful to the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions, which have resulted in a considerable improvement of this manuscript. The authors furthermore gratefully acknowledge funding from the MISTRA foundation. MISTRA played no role in the study design, the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, in the writing of the manuscript or the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Citation

Liesen, A., Hoepner, A.G., Patten, D.M. and Figge, F. (2015), "Does stakeholder pressure influence corporate GHG emissions reporting? Empirical evidence from Europe", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 28 No. 7, pp. 1047-1074. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-12-2013-1547

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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