Greenwash: Corporate Environmental Disclosure under Threat of Audit
We develop an economic model of “greenwash,” in which a firm strategically discloses environmental information and a non-governmental organization (NGO) may audit and penalize the firm for failing to fully disclose its environmental impacts. We identify conditions under which NGO punishment of greenwash backfires, inducing the firm to become less rather than more forthcoming about its environmental performance. We show that complementarities with NGO auditing may justify public policies encouraging firms to adopt environmental management systems. Mandatory disclosure rules offer the potential for better performance than NGO auditing, but the necessary penalties may be so large as to be politically unpalatable. If so, a mix of mandatory disclosure rules, NGO auditing and environmental management systems may be needed to induce full environmental disclosure.
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