Environmental Disclosures and Economic Performance Environmental Disclosures and Economic Performance | EUREKA
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Environmental Disclosures and Economic Performance

A second general category of archival research explores the relationships between environmental disclosures, environmental performance, and/or financial performance. Overall, the results vary in the direction and magnitude of these associations. Li et.al. (1997) find increased disclosures of environmental information when firms are more likely to pollute, when stakeholders become more aware of the firms' environmental liabilities, and when threats to obtaining regulatory costs decline. Cho et.al. (2006) find that companies with higher political lobbying efforts have increased environmental disclosures and lower environmental performances, suggesting a management strategy to influence environmental regulatory procedures. Patten (2002) finds a negative correlation between environmental disclosures and environmental performance, and the correlation is more pronounced among firms in non-ESIs. Social and political pressures may explain the negative correlation. Bad environmental performance leads to pressure to disclose, and ESIs are not affected as much by this pressure because they already receive more scrutiny.

Sociopolitical pressures may also help explain findings of negative correlations between environmental footnote disclosures and both American firms' level of business outside of the USA (fear of being perceived as a polluter) and firms' earnings volatility (fear of bad news exasperating low-earnings periods; Karim et.al., 2006). Cho et.al. (2010) find a similar usage of disclosures when considering the language of US annual reports; the worse the corporate environmental performance, the more optimistic and vague the environmental disclosure language in the entity's annual report.

Al-Tuwaijri et.al. (2004) find different results from Patten (2002) when they consider endogeneity among environmental performance, financial performance, and environmental disclosures. They find positive links, suggesting that environmental stewardship and economic success do not have to be adversarial objectives (see Frooman (1997) and Orlitzky et.al. (2003) for meta-analysis providing general support for a positive relationship between corporate socially responsible behavior and financial performance). Ruf et.al. (2001) use stakeholder theory to explain a broader positive link between corporate social performance and financial performance, suggesting that firms better serve their shareholders when they address other stakeholder concerns. Indeed, environmental disclosures on company web sites suggest that companies perceive environmental issues as a competitive advantage instead of a regulatory burden (Jose and Lee, 2007). In contrast to the above results, Murray et.al. (2006) find no relation between UK companies' stock returns and their environmental and social disclosures. However, there was a positive relationship between a company's level of disclosures and the consistency of their financial returns (i.e. high disclosure levels correlated with consistently high returns, and vice versa).

In another study on market reactions, Blacconiere and Northcut (1997) show that the market-valued environmental disclosure information surrounding US environmental regulations in 1986 (the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act). Specifically, chemical companies with pre-1986 environmental disclosures received better market reactions compared to companies with environmental cost information disclosed by the EPA relating to the legislation and indicating greater environmental cost risks. Investors seem to view corporate disclosures as an indicator of the company adequately mitigating environmental cost risks such as regulatory burdens. This finding supports Blacconiere and Patten's (1994) earlier analysis of a different critical event - the 1984 Union Carbide chemical leak incident in Bhopal, India. In this study, investors also appeared to respond more favorably (i.e. not as negatively) to chemical companies that disclosed environmental information more thoroughly before the incident occurred. Magness (2010) echoes this favorable response to prior environmental disclosures in a study on investor reactions to an accident in the Canadian mining industry. In this study, investors react particularly favorable (i.e. moderate negative reactions) to companies disclosing that they have upper level company involvement in environmental issues. In a sample of pulp and paper companies, Clarkson et.al. (2004) show that environmental capital expenditures yield gains for low-polluting companies, but not their high-polluting counterparts. Also, investors utilize data on companies' environmental performances to assess future environmental liabilities that are yet to be recognized.

Clarkson et.al. (2008) attempt to resolve tension in the different frameworks used to explain the link between environmental disclosures and environmental performance. Specifically, they conclude that US companies involved in ESIs have a positive relationship between voluntary environmental disclosures and environmental performance. These findings support economic theories of discretionary disclosure and not social-political frameworks such as legitimacy theory. However, for companies experiencing pressure for better environmental performance by external stakeholders, the social-political frameworks do provide a structure for predicting disclosures of environmental information when the company has not made a hard commitment to disclose the information.

Overall, archival environmental accounting studies have tested, with much success, the legitimacy framework's ability to support the pattern of environmental disclosures observed among companies. One consequence of the evidence supporting legitimacy theory results in the possibility that firms disclose environmental information simply to gain permission from society to operate. Thus, if society is appeased by only a firm's level of information disclosure (i.e. words but not necessarily action), then improved environmental performance cannot be a guaranteed outcome. This may explain the studies that found no association (Walden and Stagliano, 2003) or failed to find a positive (Patten, 2002) correlation between environmental disclosures and environmental performance. However, other studies reviewed find a positive relationship between disclosure and performance (both environmental and financial), which would support more economic-based disclosure paradigms (i.e. firms disclose because they can back up their information claims, thus it is their competitive advantage to disclose) compared to socio-political frameworks such as legitimacy theory (Clarkson et.al., 2008). Model miss-specification, e.g. not considering endogeneity among the variables, may be driving these conflicting results (Al-Tuwaijri et.al., 2004), so this debate would benefit from more research.

Advantages of archival research methods include analyzing data from a broad portion of the test population, so results can be fairly generalized to the whole population. Since financial data usually captures consistent and high-quality information, archival methods are a good approach to addressing financial environmental accounting inquiries. However, an archival study can only suggest correlations between two variables because the variables are not manipulated and isolated (i.e. "turning one dial at a time") (Shadish et.al., 2002). Thus, the archival method cannot show causation as well as why an association between variables exists.

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