Environmental reporting disclosure in South Africa, a comparative study of the expectations of key stakeholder groups.
Mitchell, Clyde Geoffrey.
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Part A of this dissertation, represents the literature review and project outline for this study, and includes the definition of the research problem, aims, objectives and the proposed methodology. The literature review considers the emergence of environmental accounting and reporting in the context of the escalating environmental crisis. It reviews the role of accounting prior to the development of the concept of sustainable development, and subsequently focuses specifically on the rise to prominence of environmental reporting and accounting thereafter. It reviews major academic works in this field as well as major international guidelines, standards, protocols and charters on environmental reporting. In addition, the study also reviews the limitations and problems associated with traditional and environmental accounting, and environmental reporting. It proposes a framework that considers the forces influencing environmental reporting, and briefly examines the previous evidence of the contrasting attitudes and perceptions of both preparers and users of such environmental reports. Arising out of this literature review, a study was developed that would measure and compare the expectations of three key stakeholder groups with regard to environmental accounting and reporting, namely: • The companies responsible for preparation • Environmental professionals, who assist in the preparation of these reports or attest as to their validity, and • Environmental activists, pressure groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that rely on such reporting to assess the impact of a company's activities. The study would look at the perceived importance of environmental reports, the areas that are reported on, and the levels of disclosure. It would then contrast the expectations of the above three groups and compare these to the minimum reporting levels required by the only officially endorsed international reporting guideline in South Africa, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The second part of this dissertation (Part B), is presented in the form of a research paper, and is presented in the specific format required by the academic journal Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, a Wiley InterScience publication, to which it will be submitted for publication, (after final editing to reduce its overall length). This second part includes a brief review of key literature, the aims, objectives and hypothesis of the study. It then details the methodology and the findings, which are discussed in depth. These findings include significant differences that were found between the expectations of the three groups, and differences between these expectations and the reporting specifications of the GRI. The environmental activists and pressure groups were found to expect greater levels of disclosure than professional environmental consultants, who in turn expected higher levels of disclosure than companies and their representatives. There were also significant differences between the responses of the three groups with regards to the importance of specific areas of environmental disclosure. The responses were more skewed towards considering most specific areas of disclosure as very important or extremely important, by the environmental activists and pressure groups. This was more so than for the environmental professionals or company respondents who also considered most of these areas as important or very important.