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International Business & Economics Research Journal – September 2007

Volume 6, Number 9

Sustainability Reporting Practices In Portugal: Greenwashing Or Triple Bottom Line?
Diane H. Roberts, (E-mail:, University of San Francisco John P. Koeplin, (E-mail:, University of San Francisco

ABSTRACT This paper examines the status of sustainability reportingin Portugal. The Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) guidelines for sustainability reporting is an initiative that attempts to create a paradigm of triple bottom line reporting that encompasses the economic, environmental, and social performance of business. Measurement and reporting of environmental and social aspects are in their infancy compared to financial/economic reporting. The objectiveof the GRI’s framework is to elevate environmental and social reporting to the level of financial reporting by developing reporting principles and information qualities similar to those used in corporate financial reporting. In the post-Enron corporate reporting environment, such credibility may be tarnished and lead stakeholders to suspect corporations of greenwashing their reputations by issuingreports that are environmental window dressing. Currently 860 companies in a variety of industries worldwide are voluntarily listed as using the guidelines on the GRI’s web site; however, only five are from Portugal. Two of the five companies are GRI organizational stakeholders and one is listed as reporting 'in accordance' with the guidelines. Content analysis will be used to examine both thequantity and quality of information in the GRI reports of Portuguese companies. An additional issue regarding the transparency and credibility of the information provided is whether the reports have been verified (a more generic term than audit used for a similar assurance-type service relative to GRI Reports). The results of the content analysis will be used to shed some light on whether thecompanies generating these reports are bridging or widening the sustainability reporting expectations gap between companies and stakeholders.



he Global Reporting Initiative (GRI, 2000) framework for sustainability reporting addresses three components: the economic, environmental, and social aspects of an entity‟s operations. It is a transnational attempt to extend the credibilityof financial reporting into social responsibility areas by utilizing similar standards for preparation and reporting. The GRI does not endorse any national GAAP in the economic reporting guidelines. Greenwashing is defined as the structuring of corporate disclosures regarding environmental matters so as to maximize perceptions of legitimacy. The term implies creative reputation management to "hidedeviance, deflect attributions of fault, obscure the nature of the problem or allegation, reattribute blame and, finally, need to appear in a leadership position" (Laufer, 2003, p. 255). Corporate social responsibility disclosures may aid companies in achieving organizational legitimacy. Neu, et al. (1998, 266) note that “intersection of fractionalized social values, well-organized and vocalinterest groups, and the necessity to operate in a competitive global economy has made organizational legitimacy increasingly important yet more difficult to obtain.” Companies may achieve strategic goals such as appeasement of dissident stakeholders or reduced governmental regulation by providing social responsibility reporting. 29

International Business & Economics Research Journal – September2007

Volume 6, Number 9

The five companies in the sample are: Brisa S.A., Delta Cafes. EDP (Energias de Portugal), Portugal Telecom, and Sonae Sierra. Each company‟s most current report was obtained via the Internet and examined. Reporter listing on the GRI website is voluntary and some Portuguese companies may issue environmental reports but are not listed on the GRI website. The actual...
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