Disclosure In Pursuit Of Accountability: Studies On The Advent, Materiality, And Repercussions Of Utilities’ Environmental Disclosures

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There is little doubt that the increased reliance on both neoliberal policies and corporate voluntarism to achieve corporate sustainability has led stakeholders-e .g. investors, citizens, and regulators-to rely on voluntary environmental disclosures. Stakeholders rely on disclosures as they attempt to hold corporations accountable for their environmental impacts. As corporations can use disclosures to strategically maintain economic and legitimacy resources, environmentalists and policymakers have grown skeptical of the link between disclosure and accountability. This skepticism inspires me to investigate: (1) the motivations for corporations' first voluntary environmental disclosures; (2) the variation in disclosure language; and (3) the potential repercussions of environmental disclosure. To understand the advent of and variation in environmental disclosure, I focus on a specific industry: electric utilities. In my first empirical chapter, I use an event history model to determine why utilities first began disclosing environmental information between 1960 and 1975. I find that corporations first acknowledged their environmental impacts in response to the environmental movements' activities that pressured legislators to create environmental regulations. In my second empirical chapter, I use a mixed-effects model to understand how stakeholder pressures influenced the materiality of utilities' climate disclosures between 2000 and 2010. My findings expose the role of monopolistic and oligopolistic competitive structures in shaping utilities' perceptions of stakeholder power. Specifically, I find that corporations increased the materiality of their disclosures in response to social movement activities-demonstrating growing perceptions of power. Finally, in my third chapter, I develop a theoretical framework that assists scholars in determining when and how voluntary environmental disclosures affect corporate resources. In this framework, I expose the importance of considering stakeholders' power, expectations, willingness to attribute responsibility, and sanctioning ability. In total, my research supports the argument that disclosures may be a tool for informing and shaping stakeholders' expectations-making sanctioning unlikely. These insights reinforce environmentalists' skepticism towards relying on disclosures to guarantee accountability for environmental degradation.

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Environmental Disclosure; Corporate Environmentalism; Accountability


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Union Local


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Wolf,Steven A.

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Tolbert,Pamela S
Stedman,Richard Clark

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Natural Resources

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Ph. D., Natural Resources

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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