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The language of US corporate environmental disclosure

Charles H. Cho, Robin Roberts () and Dennis M. Patten

Accounting, Organizations and Society, 2010, vol. 35, issue 4, 431-443

Abstract: We rely on prior work in environmental disclosure and corporate impression management to investigate whether there are self-serving biases present in the language and verbal tone used in corporations' environmental disclosures. Specifically, we argue that the degree of bias in these narratives varies systematically based on firm environmental performance, hypothesizing that disclosures of worse environmental performers exhibit significantly more "optimism" and less "certainty" than their better-performing counterparts. We test our two hypotheses using a cross-sectional sample of corporate environmental disclosures contained in US 10-K annual reports. Utilizing the content analysis software DICTION to determine "optimism" and "certainty" scores for the disclosures, we find empirical support for both hypotheses. Our study contributes significantly to research in environmental disclosure by investigating bias in the use of language and verbal tone as a tool for managing stakeholder impressions and by finding empirical support for this role. Thus, the language and verbal tone used in corporate environmental disclosures, in addition to their amount and thematic content, should be considered when investigating the relation between corporate disclosure and performance.

Date: 2010
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