Sustainability reporting of the forest and paper sector : recommendations for improvements of corporate responsibility reports of forest and paper companies based on quality assessments

University essay from SLU/Southern Swedish Forest Research Centre

Abstract: This master thesis examines the quality of separate corporate responsibility (CR) reports published by companies of the forest and paper sector. It aims to provide recommendations for quality improvements of such reports and thus an enhancement of its usefulness for stakeholders and investors in particular. Quality assessments are conducted and recommendations are presented for the whole forest and paper sector, for emerging sustainability reporters of the sector and finally under consideration of forest and paper companies headquartered in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. It is found that corporate responsibility reporting of the forest and paper sector follows general sustainability reporting patterns as examined in previous studies on other sectors. The quality of sustainability performance information provided by the sector is relatively low, with disclosure on social issues being weakest and information on environmental topics being relatively good. It is thus especially recommended to provide more detailed information on social sustainability performance that goes beyond data on workforce numbers, its diversity or occupational health and safety measurements. Additionally, companies of this sector should provide economic sustainability performance information that exceeds these given in annual reports. The revelation of information on environmental biodiversity as well as environmental effects of transport should be enhanced further. However, in contrast to other studies on non-forest and paper sectors, the use of external validation measurements by forest and paper enterprises is higher. Additionally, better quality of information on sustainability performance data was found for issues that are of particular relevance for companies of this specific sector. Reports of larger companies were generally considered more up to date, more comprehensive and of higher quality than reports published by smaller ones defined as emerging sustainability reporting bodies. The largest differences in the quality of the published material were examined for forestry-related issues and social sustainability performance information, but also concerning the environmental topics of transport and compliance with laws and regulations. More detailed information on behalf of emerging sustainability reporting bodies is thus particularly recommended for the two latter issues as well as for reporting on society and product responsibility. Beyond this, more detailed information should also be delivered with regard to forestry-related certification, illegal logging and carbon sequestration/storage. External validation measurements as the use of GRI guide2 lines and third-party assurance should additionally find more consideration within the reporting of small forest and paper companies. Clear differences were also detected with regard to the quality of reports published by North American, European and Asia-Pacific forest and paper companies. European companies have used GRI guidelines in the most extensive way and provide the highest level of quality on social and particularly environmental sustainability performance information as well as towards forestry-related issues. North American enterprises however performed best on economic sustainability performance information. In contrast, Asia-Pacific companies provide best quality of information on the forestry-related issue of illegal logging, whereas the quality of sustainability performance disclosure is generally inferior in comparison with the two other regions. Based on the region related findings, corporations headquartered in the Asia-Pacific region are advised to publish non-financial and particularly sustainability reports more extensively and enhance the quality of it by a more detailed and explicit reporting on all sustainability issues as well as information concerning forestry-related certification. Beyond this, more current non-financial reports as well as a more extensive use of external validation measurements are recommended for North American forest and paper companies. Additionally, North American enterprises should enhance the detailedness of reporting on forestry-related issues. The findings of the thesis enlarge the field of research on sustainability reporting within the forest and paper sector and contribute to an overview of the status quo of corporate responsibility reporting practices in general.

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