Exploring the use of online corporate sustainability information

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Colleges, School and Institutes

Abstract

Whilst the supply, exclusivity and prominence of online corporate sustainability information has increased in recent years, comparatively little is known about what information is used by whom. This paper explores which user groups access online corporate sustainability information, and assesses the relative use of sustainability reports and other forms of social and environmental information disseminated on corporate Websites. To collect the necessary empirical data, the paper analyses 4,652,471 successful requests for information made by the users of 10 UK FTSE 350 corporate websites. The paper finds that the majority of requests for online sustainability information originate from the reporting company indicative of an inward focus to sustainability reporting. In examining access to different online information sets, distinct profiles of corporate Website users begin to emerge. Requests from employees, private individuals, ISPs and consultants represent the vast majority of the online sustainability reporting audience and the corporate website in general. Contrastingly, a professional financially-orientated profile of users characterised by professional investors, creditors, accounting firms and lawyers make significantly more use of the Annual Report but significantly less use of sustainability reporting information and other online disclosures. Although prior literature notes how companies have yet to utilise the potential of the online medium in disseminating corporate sustainability information, disclosures are found to attract approximately a tenth of all corporate website requests. Environmental and ethical disclosures outside the Annual Report are the most popular sources of online corporate sustainability information whilst ‘standalone’ Sustainability and/or Ethics Reports attract comparatively few requests.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176-186
Number of pages11
JournalAccounting Forum
Volume33
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2009