Intra-industry imitation in corporate environmental disclosure: A neo-institutional perspective
Corporate environmental reporting (CER) has been studied from different angles. In this paper we focus on CER from a neo-institutional perspective. CER could indeed be considered as a set of structures and practices that became institutionalised over time. Organizations derive their legitimacy in part from having reporting structures that are seen as appropriate. By incorporating legitimating structural elements (e.g. symbolizing the concept of stakeholder concern) in their reporting behavior, organizations signal conformity with societal concerns and expectations. Neo-institutional theory would predict a tendency towards conformity in implementation as CER became institutionalised over time. Mimetic isomorphism (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983) is one of the processes through which organizations change over time to become more similar to other organizations in their environment. In this paper we study intra-industry imitation as one possible component of the process by which ER decisions are made. Content similarity is the focal construct in this research. Reporting mimetism is studied on the basis of structural content similarity (quantitative versus qualitative/descriptive) and disclosure level similarity of a predefined set of information items in a longitudinal research setting. Similarity indices are constructed according to company reference groups determined on the country / industry / year level. The sample covers a 6 year period and 3 countries with distinct legal and regulatory environments (Canada, Germany and France). Results confirm and document mimetic tendencies. Higher rates of reporting similarity within a reference group predict a tendency to more similarity in the following period. Imitation tendencies are more pronounced on the higher information quality levels (quantitative or monetary information versus descriptive and qualitative information). The imitation relationship is reduced by public media exposure and remains unchallenged by economic variables (coercive forces). These results support an institutional mimetism interpretation of the imitation relationship. Mimetic tendencies are more pronounced in Canada where a significant tradition in CER developed earlier than in Germany and France.
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