Firms are increasingly obliged to be accountable for the impact of their activities on the environment. Anticipating this need, many firms have begun to include this requirement in their annual reports, sometimes even producing a report specifically concerned with sustainable development. How worthwhile are these early initiatives?
Thierry Lavoux and Patrice Grégoire have examined a study of the 2001 annual reports of 150 French firms conducted by the French Institute for the Environment (IFEN). They issue a warning: environmental reports have been produced by few firms, especially those whose activities involve considerable risks to the environment, and they should be treated with caution. These reports tend to provide few facts, especially long-term data, but plenty of general ideas.
Moreover, their findings are corroborated by several international surveys whose results they summarize. Sustainable development is clearly a matter of increasing concern so that firms have to give an account of what they are doing in this regard. Yet much progress remains to be made before this concern becomes fully integrated in management thinking and firms produce plausible reports of their efforts to act responsibly towards the environment.