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Exploring the philosophical approaches underpinning the practice of corporate environmental reporting

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posted on 2023-05-27, 10:50 authored by Morrison, LJ
This study explores the philosophical underpinnings of corporate environmental disclosure from an ethical perspective to deepen the understanding of stakeholder engagement in the reporting process. Concerns regarding stakeholder engagement have been of increasing interest as the demand for different types of information have been made on entities. The degree of cynicism towards these reports indicates that many stakeholders do not believe that entities engage with them in meeting their information needs. This study questions whether there is a gap between corporate reporting and stakeholder engagement. This issue can be explored through the lens of environmental ethics, which describes the approaches used to perceive and interact with the environment. Discourse analysis was adopted firstly to analyse the environmental disclosures of a single case study company, and secondly, to analyse the interview transcripts of a number of representatives of the company's key stakeholder groups in regard to stakeholder engagement and environmental information disclosure. Using discourse analysis, the three predominant branches of environmental ethics (utilitarianism, deontology and virtue ethics) were applied to these bodies of text in order to ascertain the ethical approaches of the case study company and its stakeholders. It was found that a gap existed between the ethical approaches expressed in the case study company's environmental disclosures, and those expressed by external stakeholders. This gap widened as the relationship between the company and the stakeholder became less direct. Stakeholders whose relationship with the company involved internal understandings viewed the environmental interactions and subsequent reports through deontological and utilitarian approaches, corresponding to how these issues were expressed in the disclosures. Considering other environmental issues exclusive of the case study company, a virtue ethics approach was used by all stakeholders. This approach was also used by stakeholders affected on a more personal level, and who also viewed the environmental interaction of the company with a degree of cynicism. Environmental reports require a common language to effectively communicate with stakeholders. This study suggests that the common language of stakeholders is framed in a virtue ethics approach, which diverges from the approach expressed in the company's environmental reports. This study has enhanced our understanding through the application of environmental ethics to stakeholders' engagement and corporate environmental disclosure, and offers a potentially fruitful opportunity for further research.

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