Implementation of environmental strategies in companies’ management and control system : -a study of sustainability reporting in the forest-, paper-, mining- and steel industry in Sweden

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Economics

Abstract: Sustainability reporting has grown in importance and transparency over the years. The reporting has in many countries gone from being voluntarily to become mandatory. This is the case within the EU, which adopted the non-financial reporting directive (2014/95/EU) in 2014. Sweden applied the directive in 2017 in the Annual Account Act. At the same time as the requirements have increased research has showed there is a gap between the content of the disclosed reports and companies’ actual sustainability activities. To create a reliable and transparent external sustainability report there is a need to take internal activities into account and collect data for reporting from internal management and control systems. Previous research has also recognised that sustainability needs to be a part of the corporate strategy in order to ensure that sustainability becomes a part of the business operations. In order to contribute to a deeper understanding of any deficiencies between the information provided in sustainability reports and the internal activities the aim of this study is to investigate and explain the implementation of environmental strategies in company’s management and controls system. Swedish companies operating in industries with a high environmental impact, the forest-, paper-, mining-, and steel industry, are selected as research objects in this study. A deductive method in combination with a hermeneutic method is applied. Management control systems, corporate sustainability strategy, legal requirements, the Global Reporting Initiative and accounting postulates form the theoretical framework. The empirical result shows there is a gap between the communicated environmental strategies and the implementation in the company management control system in each of the three industries. The result of the study raises questions regarding what the goal is for the communicated environmental strategies and to what extent the strategies are implemented. Another conclusion is that the companies in the three industries do not comply with the GRI framework, when reporting a limited number of environmental performance indicators. In addition, despite of a mandatory regulation for disclosing of non-financial information and the use of a common framework there is no common reporting standard for companies in the studied industries. External stakeholders need to have access to relevant non-financial information to assess companies’ impact on the environment. Current legislation and standard frameworks provide a high level of flexibility regarding what to report. In order to achieve a common standard this study shows a need to add a conceptual sustainable framework for accounting and reporting, enforcement mechanisms and regulated common standards to achieve a more transparent and reliable reporting practice.

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