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The effect of sustainable business practices on profitability. Accounting for strategic disclosure

Massimiliano Cerciello, Francesco Busato and Simone Taddeo

Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 2023, vol. 30, issue 2, 802-819

Abstract: This work tackles from an empirical perspective the widely debated relationship between sustainability in business practices and profitability, focusing on a sample of listed European firms. To measure the extent of sustainable practices at the firm level, the Comprehensive Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) score is proposed. The indicator, computed using the Mazziotta‐Pareto method, combines qualitative ratings on adherence to ESG standards with quantitative observations on the extent of data disclosure. Firms failing to pursue full disclosure are penalized. Focusing on the constituents of the Euro Stoxx 300 index, a dynamic panel model is implemented, where profitability is explained by the indicator. The results show that sustainability in business practices reduces profitability. These findings are in line with a strand of literature that highlights the role of strategic disclosure of ESG information on part of firms. Strategic disclosure occurs as a combination of greenwashing and social washing, with firms overstating the extent of their positive behaviors. The integration of sustainable practices within successful business models thus remains a relevant societal problem. The current EU policy framework is discussed in line with our findings.

Date: 2023
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