Accounting for the Unaccountable: Biodiversity Reporting and Impression Management

Journal of Business Ethics 135 (4):751-768 (2016)
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Abstract

This paper explores the strategies organizations use to demonstrate their accountability for biodiversity and legitimize their impact in this area through the use of techniques of neutralization. Neutralization aims to manage stakeholder impressions on very socially sensitive issues. Based on the content analysis of 148 sustainability reports from mining organizations, the study sheds light on the successful use of rhetoric in reports on non-measurable and potentially unaccountable issues. Specifically, the study shows that mining organizations use four main techniques of neutralization when they explain their impact on biodiversity. When they address stakeholders, they defend their social legitimacy and environmental responsiveness using one of the four techniques: they claim of a net positive or neutral impact on biodiversity, they deny that they have a significant impact, they distance themselves from the impact of their actions, and they play down their responsibilities. The study contributes to the literature on corporate sustainability and accounting for stakeholders. It focuses on under-researched issues such as the management of biodiversity and the tactics used to rationalize negative impacts. The study also bridges the gap between theories about organizational legitimacy, impression management, and techniques of neutralization.

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