Carbon reporting: Does it matter?

Haigh, Matthew and Shapiro, Matthew A. (2012). Carbon reporting: Does it matter? Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 25(1) pp. 105–125.



Purpose - This paper aims to identify the significance of carbon emissions reporting for investment banking. Design/methodology/approach - Functionaries at selected financial institutions in the USA, Europe and Australia are interviewed. Carbon emissions reporting methods used by companies are identified using desk research. A proposal from a non-state actor called the Climate Disclosure Standards Board for general-purpose carbon emissions reporting is assessed using participant observation. The data gathered are interpreted through a semiotic lens, with focus on the placement, content, and style of reporting, and combining with a functional perspective of decision-usefulness. Findings - Environmental investing for well-diversified investors constitutes a discourse of the imaginary. Financialised constructs have been used to represent heavier polluters as superior "carbon performers" (the imaginary), while reported variations in industrial carbon emissions levels have been ignored in asset allocation decisions (the actual). Environmental investing is conditioned by four factors: exclusion of carbon emissions in constructions of firm value; diverse methods used by firms to calculate, measure and report carbon emissions; the appropriate venue for such reporting; and the quantum of data contained therein. Carbon emissions reports have had some use in investors' assessments of firms' corporate governance. Practical implications - Risk assessment is likely to be erroneous if using measures that deflate carbon emissions by firms' revenues. This may not matter much as carbon reporting in the hands of investors appears linked to imaginary signification more so than actual portfolio decisions. Originality/value - The paper contributes to work on the participation of institutional investors in environmental investing and establishes a foundation for future research in general-purpose reporting on greenhouse gas emissions. Supplemented by desk research, the study uses interviews to provide insights into investors' motivations for environmental investing, and how they use company-issued carbon reports.

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