Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 138, Issue 3, pp 417–435 | Cite as

Stakeholder Relationships, Engagement, and Sustainability Reporting

  • Irene M. Herremans
  • Jamal A. Nazari
  • Fereshteh Mahmoudian


The concept of sustainability was developed in response to stakeholder demands. One of the key mechanisms for engaging stakeholders is sustainability disclosure, often in the form of a report. Yet, how reporting is used to engage stakeholders is understudied. Using resource dependence and stakeholder theories, we investigate how companies within the same industry address different dependencies on stakeholders for economic, natural environment, and social resources and thus engage stakeholders accordingly. To achieve this objective, we conducted our research using qualitative research methods. Our findings suggest that the resource dependencies on different stakeholders lead to development of different stakeholder relationships and thus appropriate resources within the company to execute engagement strategies that are informing, responding, or involving. Our research explains why diversity exists in sustainability disclosure by studying how it is used to engage stakeholders. We find that five sustainability reporting characteristics are associated with the company’s stakeholder engagement strategy: directness of communication, clarity of stakeholder identity, deliberateness of collecting feedback, broadness of stakeholder inclusiveness, and utilization of stakeholder engagement for learning. Our study develops the literature by providing insight into companies’ choices of stakeholder engagement strategy thus explaining diversity in sustainability reporting based on the characteristics and relationships with specific stakeholders.


Resource dependence Stakeholder engagement Stakeholder relationships Sustainability reporting 



This paper was made possible through a Grant from the Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE) at the University of Calgary and funding provided by CMA-Alberta. We appreciate the insightful suggestions and comments that we received from the two anonymous reviewers and the editor. We would also like to acknowledge the helpful comments from Linda Ambrosie and reviewers of the Academy of Management Conference and the European Accounting Association Congress.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Irene M. Herremans
    • 1
  • Jamal A. Nazari
    • 2
  • Fereshteh Mahmoudian
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Haskayne School of BusinessUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.Beedie School of BusinessSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

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