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Environmental Reporting Through an Ethical Looking Glass

ABSTRACT

This paper adopts the lens of environmental ethics to explore whether there is a disparity between the ethical approaches of a company in comparison to those expressed by stakeholders in relation to environmental issues, specifically those communicated through the corporate environmental report. Discourse analysis is adopted to explore the environmental section of the sustainability reports of the case study company as compared to the responses of a sample of the company’s stakeholders, using the lens of three branches of environmental ethics: utilitarianism, deontology and virtue ethics. Results indicate that the ethical approaches expressed in the case study company’s environmental reports were grounded in utilitarianism and deontology, in contrast to a virtue ethics approach expressed by external stakeholders. The disparity widened as the relationship between the company and the stakeholder became less direct. This disparity signals a failure to meet one of the primary purposes for preparing sustainability reports: to engage with stakeholders. As such this research contributes to the literature by identifying a disparity in the how this information is communicated compared with how it is perceived by stakeholders. This has important implications for the success of current stakeholder engagement practices.