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Sustainability Disclosure and Reputation: A Comparative Study

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Abstract:

Drawing on legitimacy theory, we discuss that a company's reputation is a determinant of sustainability disclosure. Specifically, we consider the concept of reputation into three dimensions for analysis: commitment to stakeholders, financial performance and media exposure. This paper differs from previous social and environmental reporting studies in that it investigates both internal and external contextual factors that influence disclosure practice. We claim that companies with a good financial performance, which are adopting an active strategic position towards stakeholders and which are exposed to significant public pressure, are more likely to use sustainability disclosure in order to communicate their legitimacy to operate to stakeholders. Moreover, the paper analyses a wide range of corporate reports for their social and environmental content using an international sample that allows for a comparison of disclosure practices among Continental European, UK and US companies. Our results show that both commitment to stakeholders and media exposure are positively associated with sustainability disclosure. Moreover, we find evidence that the drivers of disclosure vary by information type.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/crr.2011.10

Affiliations: Department of Economics and Management, University of Padova, Padova, PD, Italy

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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