Initiating Disclosure of Environmental Liability Information: An Empirical Analysis of Firm Choice [Book Review]

Journal of Business Ethics 125 (4):1-12 (2014)

This paper investigates potential motivations for late adopting U.S. companies to begin disclosing environmental liability amounts in their financial statements. Based on a review of 10-K reports filed from 1998 through 2012, inclusive, we identified 55 firms initiating environmental liability disclosure over the period, with all but three doing so by 2006. Focusing on the disclosers up through 2006, we argue that the companies may have used the disclosure as a tool of impression management to avoid potential stakeholder mis-estimation of previously undisclosed liability exposures. We first compute tests to identify firms that may have begun the disclosure due to (1) materiality and (2) concerns of having proprietary costs imposed upon them due to changes in their environmental media coverage and environmental performance, and we find very few cases where these explanations might hold. For the remaining companies, we compared their newly disclosed liability amount, on average, with the mean level of environmental liability being disclosed by other firms in the year prior to the sample companies’ initiation, and find that it is significantly smaller, thus supporting our impression management argument. Finally, we find that overall level of environmental liability amounts was consistently decreasing over the time frame examined, suggesting that earlier adoption would have made more sense. However, it may also explain why almost no new firms began disclosing after the mid-2000s
Keywords Impression management  Environmental disclosure  Environmental liability  Materiality  Proprietary costs
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Reprint years 2014
DOI 10.1007/s10551-013-1939-0
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