Environmental Reporting and Third Party Statements
The primary objective of Environmental Reporting and Third Party Statements was to test whether third party attestation statements contained in voluntary corporate environmental reports added value in the eyes of external stakeholders. Other goals of the study included assessing which report elements contributed the most to communicating credibility, and the credibility of different types of organizations that perform certifications of corporate environmental reports.
Voluntary environmental reporting follows from implementation of business initiatives such as the Public Environmental Reporting Initiative (PERI), Responsible Care®, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Business Charter for Sustainable Development. To enhance the credibility of these reports, an increasing number of firms have commissioned statements by third parties such as accounting or environmental consulting firms. Many corporations are evaluating the use of third party statements as a component of their International Organization for Standardization (ISO) reporting or Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) audit processes.
Environmental Reporting & Third Party Statement represents a systematic attempt to assess the value of published third-party statements to key stakeholder groups as well as the value of other elements of a voluntary environmental report. This study reflects a growing effort to assess the value that is generated by various corporate environmental initiatives.
Five focus groups were conducted in 1995 with environmental groups, institutional investors, regulators, the media, and corporate environmental staff. None of the stakeholder groups that participated in this study believed that recent third party statements added much, if any, incremental value to corporate environmental reports published in 1994.The third party statements consistently received lower importance ratings in comparison with other elements of corporate environmental reports. These findings were consistent for investors, environmental advocacy groups, the media, government regulators and corporate representatives. Many respondents in each of the focus groups said that third party statements had the potential to add incremental value to future corporate environmental reports.
The primary objective of the study was to test whether third-party attestation statements contained involuntary corporate environmental reports added value in the eyes of external stakeholders. A structured survey was administered to representatives of five key stakeholder groups to permit systematic analysis of their responses. A copy of the survey is provided in Appendix A. The notion of adding value was assessed by comparing the quantitative responses of focus group participants to a series of questions about different report features and information channels. The second goal of the study was to assess which report elements contributed the most to communicating credibility, whether the answer was third party attestation or some other feature(s). This component of the study yielded numerous insights into what external stakeholders value most. Differences between group preferences were also explored.
The final goal of the study was to assess the credibility of different types of organizations to perform certifications of corporate environmental reports. Unlike regular annual reports, which in the United States are invariably attested to by an accounting firm, third-party attestation statements in corporate environmental reports have been presented by management consultants, environmental engineering firms, environmental strategy consultancies and nonprofit organizations.