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Based on the desire to better explain what drives differences in corporate environmental (and other social responsibility) disclosure, legitimacy theory posits that, because the social legitimacy of organizations is monitored through the public policy process, corporate managers have an incentive to use environmental disclosure to reduce exposures to social and political pressures. In this lecture, I lay out evidence from research over the past 30 years documenting that differences in the extent of this disclosure are associated with differences in exposures including firm size, the environmental sensitivity of the industry in which a firm operates, the level of media scrutiny, and importantly, firms' underlying environmental performance. I also document the impacts of existing environmental disclosure both in terms of reduced negative investor reactions to regulatory cost-inducing events and in terms of enhanced perceptions of companies' environmental reputations. I then question whether these benefits are really in the best interest of the planet.
Patten, Den, "Will Accounting Help Save The Planet? Reflections on Corporate Environmental Disclosure" (2022). Distinguished Professor Lecture Series. 5.