Environmental Website Disclosure of ICT Use and Compliance Management: A Comparison of Large Production Companies in the USA and in Europe

Environmental Website Disclosure of ICT Use and Compliance Management: A Comparison of Large Production Companies in the USA and in Europe

Heiko Henning Thimm (Pforzheim University, Pforzheim, Germany) and Karsten Boye Rasmussen (University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark)
DOI: 10.4018/IJESGT.2020070104
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The concept of ‘Environmental Management' includes the responsibility to ensure that the company complies with environmental laws and regulations. Because this responsibility is not only exercised towards authorities, but also towards the stakeholders, and because growing environmental awareness is combined with the growing development of ICT, some companies publish their information concerning ‘environmental compliance management' on their corporate websites. The present exploratory website study was performed to fill the research gap in the field of environmental website disclosure through a survey of 170 large production companies in the USA and in Europe. The analysis of the empirical data suggests that corporate websites contain only limited information about ICT use for environmental management and environmental compliance management. Because very large and mostly global corporations were observed, only small differences between the two regions were expected. However, the study revealed that the USA companies outperformed the European companies in terms of extent of disclosure.
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Being recognized as a ‘green company’ or ‘sustainable company’ is part of corporate social responsibility and this recognition has become a crucial success factor of today’s business world. The corporate website is an important and relatively low-cost vehicle to effectively build and maintain a ‘green reputation’. Therefore, as evidenced in various case studies (e.g. (North, 2015; Thimm & Rasmussen, 2019)) and empirical disclosure investigations (Atli, 2019; Berthelot, Coulmont, & Thibault, 2013; Cormier, Magnan, & van Velthoven, 2011; Suttipun & Stanton, 2012), issues of environmental management such as environmental strategy, general environmental management practice (Malarvizhi & Yadav, 2008) and the work field of environmental compliance management (Thimm & Rasmussen, 2019) are addressed by a growing number of today’s company websites. Environmental website disclosure has caught the interest of research groups from different disciplines around the world such as accounting (Cho & Roberts, 2010; Trabelsi, Labelle, & Dumontier, 2008), communication management (Gill, Dickinson, & Scharl, 2008), and Corporate Social Responsibility (Atli, Vidović, & Omazić, 2018; Ettinger, Grabner-Kräuter, & Terlutter, 2018; Tagesson, Blank, Broberg, & Collin, 2009). However, as evidenced in a recent literature review (Thimm & Rasmussen, 2020), two important aspects of environmental website disclosure are so far still relatively unexplored: ICT use for environmental management and corporate environmental compliance management (CECM) (Aberdeen Group, 2011; Nicolson, 2015; Welch, 1998) and, as a consequence, only limited research facts exist about the current status of these types of environmental disclosure. Our research is aimed at this knowledge gap and seeks to answer the following three questions:

  • 1.

    What is the extent of website disclosure of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) use for environmental management?

  • 2.

    What is the extent of website disclosure of corporate environmental compliance management (CECM)?

  • 3.

    Is the environmental disclosure of ICT use and CECM influenced by the location of the company base?

Empirical data is obtained and analyzed through an observation of 170 websites of very large production companies in the USA and in the EU (90 and 80 websites). Among other factors the significance of the analysis results is implied from the close relationship of the focused disclosure topics to current major concerns of the business world. First, ICT use for environmental management can obviously be subsumed as an aspect of the ongoing digital transformation process. Second, the climate change debate and the recent massive media attention on environmental scandals such as ‘Diesel Gate’ and environmental disasters such as ‘Deep Water Horizon’ have contributed to new powerful public movements. It can therefore be expected that knowing and enforcing environmental laws and regulations are more than ever a top priority of the business world.

The descriptive statistical data analysis described in this article provides interesting insights into the current status of website disclosure of ICT use and CECM. Determining factors for these two disclosure topics will be investigated in our future research. The article also contains insights obtained from a comparison of the EU and the USA. The results are expected to be of interest to the research community, software vendors, environmental agencies, business support organizations, and policy makers.

Following this introduction, the next section presents a literature background and presents the major considerations revealing the significance of the focus of the study. Then there follows a section which describes the research method of observation of company websites. This is followed by two sections presenting the study results. Finally, the conclusion contains a short summary and an outlook on future research.

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