Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 253–261 | Cite as

Social Accountability and Corporate Greenwashing

  • William S. Laufer


Critics of SRI have said little about the integrity of corporate representations resulting in screening inclusion or exclusion. This is surprising given social and environmental accounting research that finds corporate posturing and deception in the absence of external verification, and a parallel body of literature describing corporate "greenwashing" and other forms of corporate disinformation. In this paper I argue that the problems and challenges of ensuring fair and accurate corporate social reporting mirror those accompanying corporate compliance with law. Similarities and points of convergence between social reporting and corporate compliance are discussed, along with proposals for reform.


Economic Growth Accounting Research Social Accountability Social Reporting Environmental Accounting 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adams, Carol A.: 2002, 'Internal Organizational Factors Influencing Corporate Social and Ethical Reporting: Beyond Current Theorizing, Accountability', Auditing & Accountability Journal 15, 223-250.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, D. (ed.): 1996, What Has 'Ethical Investment' to Do With Ethics (Social Affairs Unit, London).Google Scholar
  3. Abramson, Lorne and Dan Chang: 2000, 'Socially Responsible Investing: Viable for Value Investors?', Journal of Investing. Google Scholar
  4. Ayres, Ian and John Braithwaite: 1992, Responsive Regulation: Transcending the Deregulation Debate (Oxford, New York).Google Scholar
  5. Ayres, Ian and John Braithwaite: 1991, 'Tripartism: Regulatory Capture and Empowerment', Law and Social Inquiry 16, 435-496.Google Scholar
  6. Beder, Sharon: 1998, 'Manipulating Public Knowledge', Metascience 7, 132-139.Google Scholar
  7. Beder, Sharon: 1997, Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism (Chelsea Green, White River Junction, VT).Google Scholar
  8. Bruno, Kenny: 1997, The World of Greenwash, CorpWatch, January 1, 1997 (available at:, j s p ? articleid=244Google Scholar
  9. Cumming, Jane F.: 2001, 'Engaging Stakeholders in Corporate Accountability Programmes: A Cross-Sectorial Analysis of U.K. and Transnational Experience', Business Ethics: A European Review 10, 44-52.Google Scholar
  10. Deegan, Craig: 2002, 'Introduction: The Legitimising Effect of Social and Environmental Disclosures-A Theoretical Foundation', Accountability, Auditing & Accountability Journal 15, 282-311.Google Scholar
  11. Deegan, Craig, Michaela Rankin and John Tobin: 2002, Accountability, Auditing & Accountability Journal 15, 312-343.Google Scholar
  12. Deegan, Craig and G. Carrol: 1993, 'An Analysis of the Incentives For Australian Firms to Apply for Reporting Excellence Awards', Accounting and Business Research 23, 219-227.Google Scholar
  13. Gallhofer, Sonja and Jim Haslam: 1997, 'The Direction of Green Accounting Policy: Critical Reflections', Accountability, Auditing & Accountability Journal 10, 148-174.Google Scholar
  14. Global Reporting Initiative, Sustainability Reporting Guidelines 2002 (GRI, Boston, MA) (available at: ttp:// 2002/gri_2002_guidelines.pdf ).Google Scholar
  15. Gray, Rob: 2001, 'Thirty Years of Social Accounting, Reporting and Auditing: What (if anything) Have We Learned?', Business Ethics: A European Review 10, 9-15.Google Scholar
  16. Gray, Rob, Colin Dey, Dave Owen, Richard Evans and Simon Zadek: 1997, 'Struggling with the Praxis of Social Accounting: Stakeholders, Accountability, Audits and Procedures', Accountability, Auditing & Accountability Journal 10, 325-364.Google Scholar
  17. Greer, Jed and Kenny Bruno: 1996, Greenwash: The Reality Behind Corporate Environmentalism (Apex Press, New York)Google Scholar
  18. Henriques, Adrian: 2001, 'Civil Society and Social Auditing', Business Ethics: A European Review 10, 40-44.Google Scholar
  19. Hooks, Jill, David Coy and Howard Davey (2002), 'The Information Gaps in Annual Reports', Accountability, Auditing & Accountability Journal 15, 501-522.Google Scholar
  20. Karliner, Joshua: 1999, 'UN Plan Fosters “Greenwash”,' Journal of Commerce (April 19), 8.Google Scholar
  21. KPMG: 2002, International Survey of Corporate Sustainability Reporting (KPMG, Amsterdam).Google Scholar
  22. Laufer, William S.: 2002, 'Corporate Prosecution, Cooperation, and the Trading of Favors', Iowa Law Review 87, 123-150.Google Scholar
  23. Laufer, William S. and Gilbert Geis: 2001, 'Corporate Criminal Law, Cooperative Regulation, and the Parting of Paths', United Nations: Cahiers de Défence Sociale (UN, Milan, Italy).Google Scholar
  24. Laufer, William S.: 1999, 'Corporate Liability, Risk Shifting, and the Paradox of Compliance', Vanderbilt Law Review 54, 1343-1397.Google Scholar
  25. Macken, Julie: 2002, 'Standard Time for Global Workplace', Australian Financial Review ( July 30), 52.Google Scholar
  26. Mackenzie, C.: 1998, 'The Choice Criteria in Ethical Investment', Business Ethics: A European Review 7, 2-8.Google Scholar
  27. Markus J. Milne and Dennis M. Patten: 2002, 'Securing Organizational Legitimacy: An Experimental Decision Case Examining the Impact of Environmental Disclosures', Accountability, Auditing & Accountability Journal 15, 372-405.Google Scholar
  28. Mitchell, Austin, Tony Puxty, Prem Sikka and Hugh Willmott, 1994, Ethical Statements as Smokescreens for Sectional Interests: The Case of the 260 William S. Laufer U.K. Accountancy Profession', Journal of Business Ethics 13, 39-51.Google Scholar
  29. Lordi, Robert: 2000, 'Corporate Conduct and Professional Integrity: Summary of a Pricewaterhousecoopers Survey', Perspectives 2, 58-61.Google Scholar
  30. Lubbers, Eveline: 2002, Battling Big Business: Countering Greenwash, Infiltration and Other Forms of Corporate Bulllying (Common Courage Press, Monroe, ME).Google Scholar
  31. Lydenberg, Steven D.: 2002, 'Envisioning Socially Responsible Investing: A Model for 2006', Journal of Corporate Citizenship 7, 57-77.Google Scholar
  32. National Center for Preventive Law: 1997, Corporate Compliance Principles iii (NCPL, Washington, DC).Google Scholar
  33. O'Donovan, Gary: 2002, 'Environmental Disclosures in The Annual Report: Extending the Applicability and Predictive Power of Legitimacy Theory', Accountability, Auditing & Accountability Journal 15, 344-371.Google Scholar
  34. Brendan, O'Dwyer: 2001, 'The Legitimacy of Accountants' Participation in Social and Ethical Accounting, Auditing and Reporting', Business Ethics: A European Review 10, 27-39.Google Scholar
  35. Owen, David: 1992, Green Reporting: Accountancy and the Challenge of the Nineties (Chapman & Hall, London).Google Scholar
  36. Owen, David and Tracey Swift: 2001, 'Introduction: Social Accounting, Reporting and Auditing: Beyond the Rhetoric', Business Ethics: A European Review 10, 4-8.Google Scholar
  37. Quirola, Dania and Michael Schlup: 2001, WS19-Sustainability Reporting-Beyond Greenwash, Minutes of Workshops of the 7th ERCP, Lund, Sweden, May, 2001.Google Scholar
  38. Simpson: Sally S., 2002, Corporate Crime, Law, and Social Control (New York: Cambridge).Google Scholar
  39. Sparkes, Russell: 2001, 'Ethical Investment: Whose Ethics, Which Investment?', Business Ethics: A European Review 10, 194-205.Google Scholar
  40. Stittle, John: 2002, 'U.K. Corporate Ethical Reporting-A Failure To Inform: Some Evidence From Company Annual Reports', Business and Society Review 107, 349-370.Google Scholar
  41. Swift, Tracey: 2001, 'Trust, Reputation and Corporate Accountability to Stakeholders', Business Ethics: A European Review 10, 16-26.Google Scholar
  42. Tilt, Carol A.: 1994, 'The Influence of External Pressure Groups on Corporate Social Disclosure: Some Empirical Evidence', Accountability, Auditing & Accountability Journal 7, 47-72.Google Scholar
  43. Trevino, Linda, Kenneth D. Butterfield and Donald L. McCabe: 1998, 'The Ethical Context in Organizations: Influences on Employee Attitudes and Behaviors', Business Ethics Quarterly 8, 447-476.Google Scholar
  44. Trevino, Linda et. al.: 1999, 'Managing Ethics and Legal Compliance: What Works and What Hurts', in T. Beauchamp and N. Bowie (eds.), Ethical Theory and Business (Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ).Google Scholar
  45. Vogel, David: 1989, Fluctuating Fortunes: The Political Power of Business in America (Basic Books, New York).Google Scholar
  46. Waddock, Sandra and Neil Smith: 2000, 'Corporate Responsibility Audits: Doing Well by Doing Good', Sloan Management Review 41, 75-84.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • William S. Laufer
    • 1
  1. 1.Carol and Lawrence Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research, The Wharton SchoolUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaU.S.A.

Personalised recommendations