11.isea vol 0004www.iiste.org call for paper no 2 pp. 136-148
Issues in Social and Environmental AccountingVol. 4, No. 2 December 2010Pp 136-148 Historical Account of Key Words in Non-Financial Report Titles (A review of FT 500 corporations from 1989 to 2007) Caroline D Ditlev-Simonsen BI - Norwegian School of Management NorwayAbstractThis paper investigates the history of, and trends in, non-financial reporting, based on titleanalysis. The database consists of the titles of non-financial reports issued by FT 500 corpora-tions from 1989 to 2007. The frequency and development of the three key words environment,sustainability and responsibility (coded as “environment”, “sustainab” and “responsib” to catchrelevant versions) are investigated. The key words were initially applied by a few companies,and then grew in popularity. While “sustainab” and “responsib” are still growing in popularity,“environment” grew, peaked around 2002 and then reduced in frequency as a term in the titles.Based on business theories, the paper discusses alternative explanations for why corporationsintroduced the new key words in their non-financial reports. Whereas issuing non-financialreports can be understood from a legitimacy perspective, the introduction of new key words inthe titles can be explained by a multitude of alternative theories.Keywords: Non-financial reporting, environment, sustainability, responsibility, CSRIntroduction titles. Now, words containing “sustainab” and “responsib” are moreNon-financial reports (NFRs) are volun- common in the titles. This study investi-tary publications, usually issued together gates the development of the titles of thewith annual reports. Corporate interest in 2008 FT 500 companies’ NFRs sincesocietal issues has, among other things, 1989, with a special focus on the titlesresulted in an increase in the number and containing the above three key terms.volume of such reports. From less than26 such reports being issued in 1992, My interest in the topic originates from3730 such reports were issued in 2009. personal experience. As head first ofThe titles of these NFRs have also environmental issues, and later corporatechanged significantly. Initially responsibility issues, in one of Norway’s“environment” was a key word in their largest corporations, I experienced theCaroline D Ditlev-Simonsen is a Research Fellow, Associate Director Centre for Corporate Responsibility BI – Nor-wegian School of Management, Department of Public Governance, Nydalsveien 37, 0484 Oslo, Norway, Phone +4790 787 737, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
C. D. Ditlev-Simonsen / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 2 (2010) 136-148 137process of changing the title of the com- “environment”, “sustainab” andpany’s NFR from “Environmental” re- “responsib”, will be described. The find-port to “Corporate Social Responsibil- ings will be discussed and the relevanceity” report. As it was the first Norwegian of alternative business theories in ex-company to conduct this change, I also plaining the changes in the use of keyrealized the problems associated with it. words in the NFRs will be discussed.Could the report be considered, for in- Suggestions for further research willstance, for the prestigious annual report also be presented.competition for best environmental re-port? How would it be received among Developments in non-financial reportinginvestors and other readers? The rapid growth in the number of NFRs issued worldwide is illustrated in FigureAs a consultant in the field of corporate 1. Some sectors have so far been moreresponsibility, I have repeatedly re- likely to issue such reports. Electricityceived the question “What shall we call companies are leaders in non-financialour non-financial report?” The corporate reporting, followed by chemical compa-process of changing titles is worth a nies, banks, transport, mining and oilstudy in itself. However, this study will and gas companies. Analysis by countrynot look at processes within individual reveals that UK companies are leaders incompanies, rather it will study develop- non-financial reporting followed by thements in the titles of NFRs with a focus USA, Japan, Germany, Australia andon the three key words addressed above. Italy (www. CorporateRegister.com). OfThe rest of the paper will be organized course, the number of reports issued byas follows: The next section will give an different sectors and in different coun-overview of developments in non- tries, depends upon the size of the sectorfinancial reporting. Thereafter the as well as the size of the country’s econ-method and data will be presented. In omy. Still the data gives an indication ofthe following section, developments in reporting activities.titles of NFRs, with a focus on Figure 1. Development in Number of Non-financial Reports1 Issued Worldwide
138 C. D. Ditlev-Simonsen / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 2 (2010) 136-148Why do corporations issue non- of the NFRs aimed at stakeholders canfinancial reports? be manifold, for example to supply in- formation requested by SRI, a responseSeveral arguments have been suggested to critical NGOs, to provide wellto explain what motivates corporations thought out information to the media onto issue NFRs. Interpreted from an aca- current CSR related issues, to influencedemic perspective, legitimacy theory politicians, and to increase employees’and stakeholder theory are two leading identification with their workplace. Cor-explanations for non-financial reporting. porate relationships with stakeholders “Legitimacy theory is based on the idea can thus be both responsive and/or pro-that in order to continue operating suc- active (Morsing, 2006), and other stud-cessfully, corporations must act within ies have found that stakeholders can bethe bounds of what society identifies as key drivers for non-financial reportingsocially acceptable behav- (C. D. Ditlev-Simonsen, 2010; Enquist,iour” (ODonovan, 2002 page 344). Johnson, & Skålen, 2006; Fry & Hock,From this perspective, non-financial re- 1976).porting can be perceived as somethingcorporations engage in because othercorporations do. Non-financial reporting Content of non-financial reportsis thus not driven by rational economicdecisions, but rather by normative or Non-financial reporting is not subject toisomorphic drivers. “(L)egitimacy the- shared requirements, guidelines and coreory has been recently considered as the certainties as is traditional accountingdominant theory in the CSER re- (Gray, Kouhy, & Lavers, 1995). Thesearch”(M. C. Branco & Rodrigues, content, format and size of such reports2007 page 83). The legitimacy concept therefore vary widely. A substantialmay be a more “honourable” interpreta- number of empirical studies have beention of non-financial reporting. The conducted to “analyse the pattern of vol-copying concept of institutional theory untary social disclosures, many of which(Di Maggio & Powell, 1991), sounds examine either the incidence of contentless noble but is in many ways the same of corporate annual reports and/or sepa-thing. rate social environmental, and employee health and safety reports” (Brammer &Whereas legitimacy theory deals with Pavelin, 2004 page 86). Several contentsocietal norms and pressure, stakeholder analysis methods have been applied totheory addresses pressure from specific conduct these studies, including by num-individuals and/or organizations. Stake- ber of sentences, pages or portions ofholder theory is often suggested as a mo- pages, words or lines(M. C. Branco &tivation factor for corporate non- Rodrigues, 2007).financial activities (Freeman, 1984), in-cluding non-financial reporting (Moreno However, “(O)ne of the main shortcom-& Capriotti, 2009; Willis, 2003). Typical ings of this form of content analysis iscorporate stakeholders in a CSR setting that it does not allow measurement ofare investors (SRI – Social responsible the extent of information disclosure and,investor), NGOs, media, governments/ therefore, the coded data do not reflectauthorities and employees. The purpose the emphasis that companies attach to
C. D. Ditlev-Simonsen / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 2 (2010) 136-148 139each information item” (M. Branco & study which investigates the develop-Rodrigues, 2008 page 692). Due to the ment of NFR titles.criticism regarding the application ofquantitative methods to NFR studies, theuse of qualitative studies has been sug- Method and Data Collectiongested. Several qualitative studies havebeen conducted, but the categorization The data applied in this study is com-processes have been criticized for falling piled by CorporateRegister.com. Theshort because they are too subjective (M. database contains, among other things,C. Branco & Rodrigues, 2007). titles of the NFRs issued by the FT 500 companies of 2008, in total 2354 suchAnother shortcoming of content analysis reports. The first report was issued inis the fact that it is difficult to ascertain 1989 and the database is complete to theto what extent the content reflects volun- end of 2007.tary activities as opposed to mandatoryactivities (Dahlsrud, 2008). Furthermore, Using the excel database received, Ithe volume of the NFR does not auto- have sorted data for each of the years,matically reflect the quality of the com- and counted the number of reports aspany’s non-financial performance either. well as the occurrence of each of theOn the contrary, research shows that three key terms “environment”,corporations which emphasise social “sustainab” and “responsib” for eachresponsiveness in their annual reports year.are those which are under attack for be-ing unresponsive (Fry & Hock, 1976). The reason for selecting these terms isFinally, the extent to which the content that they are, and have been, frequentlyof the NFR is actually true is also ques- applied in NFR titles (as will becometionable (Brammer & Pavelin, 2008). evident from the graphs presented). By shortening the terms (truncating by re-By studying the NFR titles, this study is moving the ending) the study capturesalso applying content analysis as a tool. different versions of the words:However, given that the titles are of a “environment” includes, for example,more limited length (compared to actual terms like environmental, environmen-reports which can be of several hundred tally; “sustainab” includes, for example,pages) the database material becomes terms like sustainability, sustainable;more concise. By using title analysis I “responsib” includes, for example, termsalso avoid the pitfall of subjectivity in like responsible, responsibility.that I will not interpret the meaning of “Responsib” will also capture Corporatethe titles, but study the frequency of key Social Responsibility (CSR) and Corpo-words over a longer period of time. The rate Responsibility (CR) in the title.pitfall of the trustworthiness or other- There are a multitude of other terms ap-wise of the NFR content is also avoided. plied in NFR titles, like social, commu-The titles of the NFRs issued are accu- nity, citizenship, health, safety and phi-rate in themselves, independent of the lanthropy. However, to limit the scopequality of the actual reports. and complexity of the paper, I have cho- sen three key terms in this study.So far I have not been able to find any
140 C. D. Ditlev-Simonsen / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 2 (2010) 136-148Having identified the first time one of A final note: even though a specific FTthese three terms was introduced in 500 company introduced one of the threeNFRs, I have then identified which com- key words this does not necessary implypanies were the first to apply it. I have that this company was the “founder” ofalso looked at the subsequent years to this key word. There are thousand ofsee which companies were the immedi- other companies which are not on the FTate followers. The names, country and 500 list of 2008 which could have beensector of these companies will be pre- the first to introduce the term, and com-sented in the text. This is to detect if panies on the FT 500 list may have cop-there are particular types of companies ied the new key word. Still, knowing(sector or country) that are either first that the FT 500 contains a significantmovers or followers. portion of the world’s largest companies, and large companies are most active onGiven that this is a large database, a few corporate responsibility issues, I suggestdecisions had to be made in order to that to some extent the FT 500 compa-streamline the data. For example, a few nies have been important movers withcompanies issued reports with non- regard to the development of non-English titles. In order to keep the objec- financial reporting.tivity and not misinterpret text, I havenot translated these titles, but kept the For each of the years, I will present thetitles translated by CorporateRegister. number of each of the key word’s ap-So, some companies might have titles pearances in the NFR titles. This will bewhich would have been included in the presented in a graph. When the numberlist of those using the three key words if of companies applying the key terms istranslated, are not included when count- under ten, these first movers will be pre-ing the key words. Some companies sented by name, sector and country.have issued two reports in one year.These will be counted as what they are,two reports. Even though some titles The history of non-financial reportscontain more than one of the key words, by FT 500 companies from 1989 toI will count the appearance of the words. 2007 - findingsPractically this means that adding to-gether all the key words found, will in The number of NFRs issued by FT 500some instances equal more than the total corporations has increased tremen-number of reports actually issued in a dously. In 1989 only one of the compa-specific year. In 2000, two corporations nies issued a NFR, whereas in 2007, 388started to include a NFR within their companies (78 percent) issued NFRs.annual report. This number of corpora- Figure 2 illustrates the development intions increased gradually to 24 in 2007. the number of NFRs issued betweenFor these corporations too, the key word 1989 and 2007 among FT500 compa-count is based on the title of the reports nies.– in this case the annual reports.1 Environment “A per year count of reports issued across all sectorsand countries. Occasionally a company may producetwo reports in one year so these figures are not directly The first NFR issued by an FT 500 com-related to the number of reporting companies.” pany was for 1989, and was issued bywww.corporateregister.com
C. D. Ditlev-Simonsen / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 2 (2010) 136-148 141 Figure 2. Development in number of non-financial reports issued by FT 500 companiesthe German chemical company BASF the titles of initial NFRs. In 2001 use ofSE. For 1990 two NFRs were issued, of this key word as part of the NFR titlewhich one, issued by the Norwegian oil peaked and decreased thereafter.& gas company Norsk Hydro ASA, had“environment” in its title. For the fol- Sustainabilitylowing year, two companies issuedNFRs, with one, the USA oil & gas The first titles to contain the termcompany Halliburton Company, having “sustainab” appeared in NFR reports for“environment” in its title. Thereafter, 1997. The two companies applying thisfive reports were issued, of which four word were the UK telecommunicationshad “environment” in their titles: the UK company BT Group plc and the USAtelecommunications company BT Group chemical company Monsanto. The nextplc, two American companies du Pont year only one company applied the(chemicals), and IBM (information tech- “sustainab” term in an NFR title, againnology), and the German personal care Monsanto. For 1999, however, sevenand & household goods company Hen- companies applied the term in the title:kel KGaA. For 1993, 11 NFRs were is- Baxter (health), Bristol-Myerssued, seven with “environment” in their (pharmaceutical), Du Pont (chemicals),titles and one with “responsib” in its ti- Motorola (information), and two reportstle. This first report with “responsib” in from Procter & Gamble (personal care).the title was issued by the USA pharma- The seventh company was the Canadianceutical & biotechnology company oil & gas company Suncor Energy. ForJohnson & Johnson. From 1994 on- 2000, the frequency of “sustainab” in thewards the appearance of “environment” title increased to ten. By now otherin titles increased, as illustrated in Fig- countries were represented: the Swissure 3. “Environment” was in almost all company ABB, Deutsche Bank of Ger-
142 C. D. Ditlev-Simonsen / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 2 (2010) 136-148 Figure 3. Total NFRs and appearance of “environment” in the title – FT 500 Figure 4. Total NFRs and frequency of “environment” and “sustainab” in the titlemany, Hitachi and Mitsubishi from Ja- and continued to increase thereafter. Inpan and Telecom from Italy (Bristol- 2007, the frequency of “sustainab” wasMyers did not issue such a report for 113. The development of “sustainab”2000). By 2004, the frequency of and “environment” in titles is presented“sustainab” in titles had increased to 69 in figure 4.
C. D. Ditlev-Simonsen / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 2 (2010) 136-148 143Responsibility Bayer (pharmaceutical), the USA gen- eral retail company Home Depot, whichEven though the term responsibility was included responsibility in two of its re-first applied by Johnson & Johson in ports, in addition to the UK telecommu-their NFR for 1993, it did not recur until nications company BT Group and the1998, in the NFR issued by the USA Canadian oil & gas company Suncor.health company Becton Dickinson. For The frequency of “responsib” in their1999 six companies applied the term reports dipped to four in 2000 but then“responsib” in their titles: the two Ger- more than doubled in 2001, and moreman companies BASF (chemicals), and than doubled again, up to 20, in 2002. Figure 5. Total NFRs and frequency of “environment”, “sustainab” and “responsib” in the titleThereafter we have seen a steady growth riod. The term “environment” appearedin “responsib” as part of the NFR title. in the title of the majority of NFRs fromIn 2007, the frequency of “responsib” the start in 1989. Its use peaked in 2002,was 131. The development is illustrated but then decreased in popularity. Thein figure 5. use of “sustainab” in titles started in 1997, and took off around 2000. Apply- ing the term “responsib” started mainlyDiscussion and conclusion in 1998, and by 2006 it had become more popular than “sustainab”. ThereThis study documents and illustrates the are several important issues in thesetrend in NFR titles for a period of almost findings. I will focus on two of them: 1)two decades. In summary, a substantial I will discuss the increase in the numberincrease in non-financial reporting by of NFRs and trends related to the use ofFT500 corporations is found in this pe- key words in their titles from a legiti-
144 C. D. Ditlev-Simonsen / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 2 (2010) 136-148macy and stakeholder perspective, and paper coverage of sustainability issues2) I will discuss alternative business which concluded that the “increase intheories to explain the reasoning behind sustainability-related media coveragethe introduction of new key words in since 1990 largely seems to be of an in-NFR titles. cremental nature, rather than clearly as- sociated with specific events. Only veryIt can be argued that the rapid growth in few truly global events can be identifiednon-financial reporting and the changing that triggered a substantial amount oftrends and popularity in the use of the media coverage globally” (Barkemeyer,three key words in NFR titles reflect a Figge, Holt, & Hahn, 2009 page 69).social expectation that such reports beissued– it has become a norm . This sup- Looking at individual corporations, withports Branco and Roderigues’ argument special focus on the ones that introducedthat non-financial reporting is driven by the new key words in their NFR titles,legitimacy. (M. C. Branco & Rodrigues, might suggest that using new key words2007). is more closely linked to stakeholder pressure. Here the pressure might notThe legitimacy argument is supported by necessarily be from specific externalthe fact that the number of companies stakeholders, but from internal stake-applying the key words in the title after holders that either take the initiative tothe words have “taken off” is increasing. or are in charge of CSR.However, it does not explain why somecompanies took the initiative to launch So looking more closely at the corporatenew key words, containing, for example, drivers for the introduction of new key“sustainab” and “responsib”, in the first words, are there other business theories,place. beyond legitimacy and stakeholder theo- ries, which can be applied to explain thisViewing non-financial reporting from a development?stakeholder theory perspective drawsattention to whether or not there are dif- In accordance with the view that a multi-ferent and specific stakeholders which theoretical framework is an appropriatetrigger corporations to produce NFRs. approach to analysing motivation forIs pressure from investors, NGOs, me- non-financial reporting (M. Branco &dia, authorities or employees the driver Rodrigues, 2008), I will evaluate thefor the increase in NFRs and the intro- relevance of some key classical businessduction of new key words in their titles? theories for understanding why someEven though stakeholders can motivate companies introduced new key words incorporations to take social responsibil- their NFRs. I will focus on Cluster the-ity, no immediate event or action comes ory, Reputation theory, Innovation the-to mind with regard to changes in the ory, and Managerial discretion theory2.NFR titles investigated. Sustainabilitywas, for example, introduced by theBrundtland Commission in 1986, long 2 For a more thorough discussion of these theories asbefore the term was applied in NFR ti- motivation factors for CSR, please see What motivatestles (United Nations, 1987). This finding managers to pursue corporate responsibility? A surveyis in line with a study of trends in news- among key stakeholders (C. Ditlev-Simonsen & Midttun, 2010)
C. D. Ditlev-Simonsen / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 2 (2010) 136-148 145“Clusters are geographic concentrations vored in the USA and are having a sig-of interconnected companies and institu- nificant effect on the reputation-buildingtions in a particular field” (Porter, 1998). strategies of global companies in manyApplying this approach, it is relevant to countries” (Fombrun, 2005 page 7). Bylook more closely at the location and launching a new key word in the title,sector of the companies which launched the company may want to show that it isthe new key words, i.e. different clusters a “leader”. However, such a move alsoof companies. Can we see any trends as implies a risk: the corporation may hap-to whether there are some sectors which pen to choose a key word that does notare more likely to take the initiative to gain popularity or improve its reputa-apply new key words, or whether there tion.are countries which are leaders? Innovation theory, in line with MossWith regards to sectors, and looking at Kanter’s approach, could also be onethe list of companies which have way of explaining these new key wordlaunched the new key words in their ti- initiatives: “Each generation embarks ontles, there is no convincing pattern as to the same enthusiastic quest for the nextany specific sector. Furthermore, some new thing” (Kanter, 2006 page 73). Byof the companies are in the consumer introducing a new term in the NFR title,market whereas others are in the B2B the company illustrates that it is innova-market. tive and a leader – which again can be linked to improved reputation.Looking at the location of the firstmover companies, it is evident that USA Managerial discretion (Williamson,and UK located companies are well rep- 1964), might also be a way to explainresented. With regards to “sustain” eight the motivation for first introducing newof the 10 corporations which include the key terms in NFR titles. Theterm in their titles from 1997-2000, were “opportunity for discretion does have aUSA based (the remaining two were systematic effect on resurce-allocationfrom UK and Canada). Other European decisions” (Williamson, 1963 pagecompanies are also generally early mov- 1032). There is often one person, or aers. Asian companies, mainly repre- limited number of people, responsiblesented by Japan, are in the third group of for the NFR (Robins, 2008), and theymovers. Great caution is however neces- have to a large extent the liberty to cre-sary when making these suggestions. ate new titles. The new key words intro-This is due to the fact that the degree to duced could thus be due to whether orwhich different countries are represented not the person in charge of non-financialin the FT 500 is not included in the issues in the company is creative. Fur-analysis. thermore, individuals personal interest can also form the base for what a com-Another way to interpret the internal pany defines as its CSR (Atkinson &drivers for the introduction of new key Galaskiewicz, 1988; Bhattacharya, Sen,words in titles, may be reputation the- & Korschun, 2008; Bondy, 2008; C. D.ory: “These [various standard-setting Ditlev-Simonsen, 2010), and therebyinitiatives] developments depart from explain the introduction of new keythe more voluntary forms of CSR fa- words in titles.
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