Ethical Accountability Extends to Social, Environmental Issues

By Verschoor, Curtis C. | Strategic Finance, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Ethical Accountability Extends to Social, Environmental Issues


Verschoor, Curtis C., Strategic Finance


REFLECTING THE LEGAL MANDATE IN SECURITIES LAWS, ALL COMPANIES measure and report their performance in financial terms. For almost all of them, this is the only method. It serves the needs of shareholders and creditors but not the other stakeholders (groups that have a direct stake in the affairs of a corporation). The interests and information needs of these groups and their champions are beginning to receive increased attention. Drivers of these activities range from consumer, environmental, and employee groups to the rapidly growing social and environmental investment community, estimated to account for over 15% of new dollar investments. Dow Jones manages a Sustainability Index to track the performance of corporations deemed to be "sustainable."

Ethical consideration of the needs of all stakeholders is not only the "right thing to do," but it adds to the bottom line. Previous Strategic Finance ethics columns have discussed the beneficial consequences shown by many research studies to result in organizations that make a commitment to treat their stakeholders ethically. These "best practices" help attain a superior overall corporate reputation, which leads to easier recruiting, improved employee productivity, lower turnover, and higher customer loyalty. Because of these factors, the number of companies making voluntary reports on their social, health, safety, and environmental performance is steadily increasing. Yet these efforts have a limited usefulness since there are no standardized approaches. Thus, some view the reports as mere public relations puffing.

At present, a number of professional and interest groups are working to develop standards for a "triple bottom line"--social, economic, and environmental--performance. To date, much of the effort has taken place in Canada and the U.K. and has had only limited input from accountants.

Since it was established in 1997, the Global Reporting Initiative of the nonprofit Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (www. …

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Ethical Accountability Extends to Social, Environmental Issues
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