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The language of US corporate environmental disclosure

  • Cho, Charles H.
  • Roberts, Robin W.
  • Patten, Dennis M.

We rely on prior work in environmental disclosure and corporate impression management to investigate whether there are self-serving biases present in the language and verbal tone used in corporations' environmental disclosures. Specifically, we argue that the degree of bias in these narratives varies systematically based on firm environmental performance, hypothesizing that disclosures of worse environmental performers exhibit significantly more "optimism" and less "certainty" than their better-performing counterparts. We test our two hypotheses using a cross-sectional sample of corporate environmental disclosures contained in US 10-K annual reports. Utilizing the content analysis software DICTION to determine "optimism" and "certainty" scores for the disclosures, we find empirical support for both hypotheses. Our study contributes significantly to research in environmental disclosure by investigating bias in the use of language and verbal tone as a tool for managing stakeholder impressions and by finding empirical support for this role. Thus, the language and verbal tone used in corporate environmental disclosures, in addition to their amount and thematic content, should be considered when investigating the relation between corporate disclosure and performance.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Accounting, Organizations and Society.

Volume (Year): 35 (2010)
Issue (Month): 4 (May)
Pages: 431-443

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Handle: RePEc:eee:aosoci:v:35:y:2010:i:4:p:431-443
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/aos

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  1. Patten, Dennis M., 1992. "Intra-industry environmental disclosures in response to the Alaskan oil spill: A note on legitimacy theory," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 17(5), pages 471-475, July.
  2. Elizabeth Demers & Clara Vega, 2008. "Soft information in earnings announcements: news or noise?," International Finance Discussion Papers 951, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  3. Reitenga, Austin L., 2000. "Environmental regulation, capital intensity, and cross-sectional variation in market returns," Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 189-198, June.
  4. Charles Cho & Dennis Patten & Robin Roberts, 2006. "Corporate Political Strategy: An Examination of the Relation between Political Expenditures, Environmental Performance, and Environmental Disclosure," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 67(2), pages 139-154, August.
  5. Aerts, Walter & Cormier, Denis, 2009. "Media legitimacy and corporate environmental communication," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 1-27, January.
  6. Vanessa Magness, 2006. "Strategic posture, financial performance and environmental disclosure: An empirical test of legitimacy theory," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 19(4), pages 540-563, July.
  7. Neu, D. & Warsame, H. & Pedwell, K., 1998. "Managing public impressions: environmental disclosures in annual reports," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 265-282, April.
  8. Hughes, Susan B. & Anderson, Allison & Golden, Sarah, 2001. "Corporate environmental disclosures: are they useful in determining environmental performance?," Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 217-240.
  9. Clarkson, Peter M. & Li, Yue & Richardson, Gordon D. & Vasvari, Florin P., 2008. "Revisiting the relation between environmental performance and environmental disclosure: An empirical analysis," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 33(4-5), pages 303-327.
  10. Patten, Dennis M., 2002. "The relation between environmental performance and environmental disclosure: a research note," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 27(8), pages 763-773, November.
  11. Hopwood, Anthony G., 2009. "Accounting and the environment," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 34(3-4), pages 433-439, April.
  12. Roberts, Robin W., 1992. "Determinants of corporate social responsibility disclosure: An application of stakeholder theory," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 17(6), pages 595-612, August.
  13. Aerts, Walter, 1994. "On the use of accounting logic as an explanatory category in narrative accounting disclosures," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 19(4-5), pages 337-353.
  14. Cho, Charles H. & Patten, Dennis M., 2007. "The role of environmental disclosures as tools of legitimacy: A research note," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 32(7-8), pages 639-647.
  15. Aerts, Walter, 2005. "Picking up the pieces: impression management in the retrospective attributional framing of accounting outcomes," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 30(6), pages 493-517, August.
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