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Sustainability 2013, 5(6), 2389-2420; doi:10.3390/su5062389
Published: 31 May 2013
Abstract: Because the issue of sustainability presents urgent problems crucial to the future of mankind, there has been serious discussion of the role accounting should play. In this context, a new line of research, still at a relatively unexplored, embryonic stage, has arisen, which tries to establish measurement of business sustainability and so compensate for the lack of information currently existing about the net impact of the company’s activity. Full Cost Accounting could allow sustainability to be translated into the language of business, together with analysis and comparison of its progress, so it might be the most appropriate vehicle for more participatory, democratic accounting, with greater dialogue, giving the accountant a much more active role, this being necessary in order to generalize the research, development and use. To analyze the current situation, a survey of 192 Spanish companies was carried out to obtain at first hand the perception of strategic positioning adopted with regard to Sustainable Development, measurement of the contribution of business activity to its achievement and the rendering of accounts carried out.
While the nature and seriousness of the threat are not confirmed, there is a general awareness of deterioration in the planet’s health , because, essentially, reputable scientific sources are in agreement that we are faced with a cocktail of serious environmental problems, which do not respect the borders between countries. The Earth’s ecosystems cannot sustain present levels of economic activity and consumption, and new management frameworks are necessary to alleviate this pressure and ensure social integrity .
In this context, because companies cause many environmental impacts and even catastrophes, society has begun to demand that they accept their responsibility, so driving the expansion of corporate responsibilities in social and environmental matters . As a consequence, the legitimation described by Shocker & Sheti , has been proposed as an alternative to the profit model, and offers companies the opportunity to legitimate their behaviour and procedures in the eyes of society. So, by virtue of a “social contract” , companies begin to assume that, unless they want to see their survival threatened, they need to operate with a value system in accordance with that of the society in whose eyes they are being legitimated . This will shape their strategies as well as one of the basic functions of Social and Environmental Accounting , such as the publication of social and environmental information .
So, no-one, i.e., neither corporations, individuals (including managers and accountants), or governments [9,10], can stand aside given the legal and moral responsibility we have to our environment, because the environment provides resources and satisfaction to everyone, accumulates waste and supports life . This awareness has been reflected in profound political, economic and social changes and in a call to action  in a global framework (even a binding one like the Kyoto Protocol).
In this context, if we accept the above, the limited traditional model becomes the “new model of sustainability”, producing a necessary, radical reorientation of human relationships, and therefore, relationships of companies, with their environment, where Sustainable Development (hereafter SD) becomes the immediate goal, because, as Pearce et al.  identify, from a realistic point of view this is a pragmatic, practical response, allowing more radical reorientations to be sought later and undertaken as long-term goals.
Therefore, from both the anthropocentric and non-anthropecentric points of view, consensus recommends that the Earth’s resources must be protected  to guarantee at a minimum, a “sustaining level of activity.” Essentially, sustainability is the maintenance of at least a certain stock of resources such as natural habitats, fauna, water or air, and worldwide global sustainability should be attained . In the business context, this means at a minimum that companies should not leave the environment worse than it was at the beginning of the accounting period (“maintaining the capital stock”) [10,16]. It is, therefore, imperative that the impact of their activity be measured, because companies may have positive indicators of success in the shape of growth and profits, while at the same time they pollute the air and water, fire employees, destroy habitats and devastate communities . To carry out this measurement and provide the decisive answers to the environmental threat, it will be necessary to influence economic decision making and involve accounting . So if this need is accepted, there are two interrelated premises:
Conventional accounting is inadequate: Traditional accounting practices are deficient because they do not include sustainability quantitatively, a situation which has endured because of its capitalist orientation, business focus, confidence in neoclassical economics, the predominance of numerical quantification, monetary dependence and various technical aspects of these practices . This has caused unsustainable decisions due to the existence of incorrect prices , or cost-saving opportunities to be missed because of lack of information  or aggregation in general expense accounts .
Need for active, participatory, democratic, dialogic accounting: The increase in research and development in Social and Environmental Accounting has developed internationally in parallel with the international debate about the phenomena of greenhouse gases, global warming, human rights, deforestation, land degradation and pollution . Therefore we advocate a form of accounting which can give a suitable, up-to-date view of the world, models reality and can be a participant in company strategy as well as in the creation of its information systems, which cannot be separated from the company’s internal and external social processes. For all these reasons, a proactive and participatory , multidimensional (integrating economic, social and environmental aspects) and dialogic (taking not only shareholders but also a wide variety of stakeholders into account) , and, therefore much more democratic and pluralist form of accounting needs to be developed. The goal will be the search for transparency and the discharge of accountability, which will be achieved by combining the functions of financial accounting, to guarantee that this form of accounting is minimally obligatory, and general accounting, to guarantee the necessary willingness to achieve “self-regulation”, with flexibility.
External or obligatory accounting: financial accounting: Because of this deficiency, and the disparity of criteria , heterogeneousness and lack of comparability of traditional accounting systems, numerous authors (e.g., [26,27]) and international organizations of various kinds have declared the need for this information to be included in annual accounts, as well progressive international harmonization (European, IASSB and FASB).
Internal or voluntary accounting: management accounting: Because the traditional accounting system does not cover what is required [26,28], environmental management systems and environmental management accounting can provide the opportunity to adapt knowledge to new realities and increase the social utility of relationships between business and nature. This subdiscipline of management accounting will therefore cover both monetary and physical aspects, making it suitable for performing a huge variety of relevant functions in company management , one of which is measurement of the net impact of its activity, which has aroused great interest among managers [5,17,30,31]. In addition, it can provide different perspectives and indicators, the Full Cost Accounting (hereafter FCA) being a perfect tool for monetary measurement of the sustainability of an activity and the net social result.
It should not be forgotten that accounting and all its disciplines is essentially a field of applied research, so it is difficult to imagine such research without detailed examination of current practices . Therefore, there is a need for new forms of participation in accounting, which is provided by administrative and management functions [24,26,33,34,35,36,37]. To achieve this, it is essential that managers help to develop and implement environmental management accounting and its different tools , which will integrate and seek sustainability through performance of these functions:
Planning and decision making: Information is not an end in itself, but rather its purpose is to be useful for planning and decision making (operative, tactical and strategic decisions) (FASB, 1991) in the field of environmental management .
Rendering of accounts: As Meadows et al.  remark, “Information is key to transformation.” For this reason, in recent years the rendering of sustainability accounts and transparency in Corporate Social Responsibility [41,42] has been developed and has spread rapidly in recent years, as companies have been required to act more coherently with SD and social and management accounting.
For this reason, empirical analysis was carried out using the survey method. In this way, although most studies have focused on analysis of the environmental information published in the companies, annual reports, in recent decades, study of the role of accounting as a support for environmental management has also been empirically analyzed , and mainly covers the following subjects:
The links existing between accounting and environmental management.
Management accounting system elements used in environmental management.
The active role of accounting in the organizational change related with interaction with society and the introduction of environmental management practices.
Definition of Environmental Management Accounting and information about its current practices.
From these studies, it can be concluded that the traditional accounting model, with its narrow focus on accounting figures, does not adequately capture the consequences of the company’s activities on the environment. Consequently, there has been a recent increase in the number of studies proposing different models to try to assess the contribution of business activity to Sustainable Development (hereafter SD) (for example, [9,10,14,16,17,19,44,45,46,47,48,49,50,51,52,53,54,55,56,57,58,59,60,61,62], which highlight the need for more critical reflection about the consideration and internalization of external factors.
It should not be forgotten that accounting and all its disciplines is essentially a field of applied research, so it is difficult to imagine such research without detailed examination of current practices . As a result, after the previous literature had been developed, empirical analysis was carried out using the survey method.
With the aim of contributing towards this recent line of research, this analysis has been carried out on a survey sent to Spanish companies in sectors whose activity has an important impact on the environment, where it is hoped to establish the determinants of business sustainability strategy, reporting and measurement. The reason for this study was the fact that the literature considers the effects of legislation and specific experiments  (in sustainability research, innovation and experiments are not very common in academic work ) but not the perception of the main stakeholders in the integration of sustainability in business management, culture and philosophy, i.e., the managers. After presenting the main results, we end with a series of conclusions.
2. Previous Literature
2.1. Strategic Positioning With Regard to Sustainability Development
The responsibility towards the environment shown by the company: It is not an easy task to define companies’ environmental behavior or characterize it as environmentally proactive . The work of authors like Hunt & Auster , Roome , Winsemius & Guntram , Sadgrove  or Vastag et al. , shows how the response of companies to these demands varies significantly from one to another, there being a range of behaviors running from a reactive attitude to external pressure to another more proactive one involving willingness to integrate the impacts of the company’s economic activity on the environment, with different intermediate tactics . Because of this, the pressure of legislation [10,65,73,74,75], and the moral responsibility  assumed are considered determinant factors in environmental strategy.
Environmental commitment: Most empirical research considers and concludes that environmental proactivity is greater with increased implementation of an extensive series of environmental practices, introduced coherently so that, in relation with other decisions, they shape environmental strategy and commitment [64,65,77,78,79].
Managers’ perception of the impacts the company’s activity has: Although this perception has not been found significant in some studies , there are many which conclude that management’s environmental perception, attitude and commitment affect environmental responsibility and the levelof integration in the business philosophy [66,77,80,81,82,83], occurring at different strategic levels according to this perception [84,85], because it corresponds to management leading this change .
Given the theoretical proposition of the search for sustainable development as an immediate aim, three new variables are included which we think identify current environmental behavior:
The corporate strategy applied by the company: The influence of the environment on the company’s future is clear, and the need for its integration in strategic planning has been analyzed in depth [79,87,88,89,90,91,92,93,94]. For example, Epstein & Roy  identify strategic differentiation and cost strategy as determinants of greater and less proactivity, respectively. Based on the literature, we propose encouragement of more advanced environmental positions starting from innovative, proactive strategies (this is the conclusion of Aragón-Correa  from a sample of 105 large Spanish companies, and Sharma & Vredemburg , from a study of 99 Canadian gas and oil companies).
The position of the Head of Environmental Management: Authors like Banerjee et al.  highlight the naming of an environment manager as the main reflection of greater commitment. Moroncini  also concludes that, unless there is an environmental policy of inaction, the existence of an environment department is necessary and required for proper implementation. In the same way, its hierarchical position also affects the importance and ambiguity of the environmental information issued .
Matters related with achievement of Sustainable Development: Because of the pressure exerted by interest groups [65,97,98], three different dimensions were integrated in the company [13,90]: fairness (intergenerational and intragenerational), the environment (natural resources) and future trajectory (long-term decisions). So SD is considered indispensable to achieve sustainable competitive advantages over time , based on real environmental commitments .
2.2. Measurement of the Sustainability of Business Activity
It could be argued that SD is the unifying element or regulatory ideal used to motivate and integrate social, environmental and ethical concerns in companies’ social responsibility and social and environmental accounting. With this approach, the extent to which the company is contributing towards the achievement of SD needs to be determined, which is where the accountant has a crucial role , needing to develop new environmental accounting tools and systems (see Cost-Benefit Analysis (e.g., Almansa & Calatrava ; Bromley ; Goulder & Kennedy ; Brower & Vanek ; Pearce & Turner ; Sagoff ; Navrud ; Neumayer ; Lind ; Vatn & Bromley ; Life Cycle Costing (e.g., Baumann & Cowell ; Bennett & James [111,112]; Clift & Bourke ; Gauthier ; Spitzer et al. ; Sterner ; Curran ; Total Quality Management (e.g., Länsiluoto & Järvenpää ; Balanced Scorecard (e.g., Choi & Gray ; Marrewijk & Were ; Schaltegger & Wagner ; Hopwood ; Länsiluoto & Järvenpää ); use of indicators (Global Reporting Institute TM ; Lange ; Fowler & Hope ; Walter & Stützel ; Lamberton ; Jones & Matthews ; Jones ); Full Cost Accounting (e.g., Antheaune [53,54]; Baxter et al. ; Bebbington ; Bebbington et al. ; Bebbington et al. ; Boone & Rubinstein ; Figge & Hahn ; Frame & Cavanagh ; Griffiths ; Herborn ; Howes ; Rubenstein ; Taplin et al. ; Xing et al., ).
However, although much has been said about SD performance, there are very few organizations making decisions and carrying out actions on the common basis of any SD assessment system, which means that empirical research is scarce.
In addition, SD is so “politically plastic” that it can be interpreted in very different ways and, as a result, very different actions established. This means that examination of sustainable performance from the accounting point of view is not very clear and is sometimes controversial and that research is therefore unstable and shifting over the still embryonic set of practices.
Immediate measures need to be promoted, such as more research where companies collaborate closely with academics, research institutes, environmental groups or government organizations, in all fields and all parts of the world, to produce international exchanges of information and experience. This is why research into the different systems of monetary and non-monetary valuation needs to be encouraged, to achieve a broad consensus, which does not currently exist, about the different accounting tools involved, both in measurement of the activity’s sustainability and in the subsequent publication of results (Table 1).
|Table 1. Diferent environmental management accounting tools. 9. (Fuente: .)|
|Definiciones/Descripciones||Categoría de Costes|
|Full Cost Accounting||Identify and quantify the full range of costs throughout the product life cycle, product line, process, service or activity||Identifies and quantifies (1) direct, (2) indirect and (3) intangible costs|
|Full Cost Environmental Accounting||It embodies the same concept as the FCA but emphasizes environmental elements||Variants|
|Total Cost Assessment||Long term financial analysis comprises the entire range of internal costs and investment savings||(1) Internal costs and savings|
|Total Cost Accounting||A term used as a synonym for either of the two definitions given for FCA or as synonymous with TCA||(1) conventional costs, (2) hidden costs, (3) liability costs, (4) less tangible costs|
|Life Cycle Accounting||The delimitation or specific cost analysis product within a life cycle framework||(1) common costs, (2) Hidden costs, (3) liability costs, (4) less tangible costs|
|Life Cycle Cost Assessment||A systematic process for evaluating life cycle costs of a product or service to identify the environmental consequences and assigning monetary value measures for those consequences. LCCA is a term that highlights the cost aspects of life cycle assessment (LCA)||Add information costs LCA|
|Life Cycle Costing||Summary of the total costs of a product, process or activity updated during its lifetime||Variants|
|Life Cycle Costing||A technique which allows to compare cost assessments that were made in a specific period of time, taking into account all economic factors both in terms of initial costs and future operational costs (ISO 15686)||Variants|
|Full Cost Pricing||A term used as a synonym for FCA or LCC (Spitzer et al., 1993)||See FCA and LCC|
|Whole Life Costing||Term used synonymously with TCA (I) or LCC (Sterner, 2002). More specifically defined by Clift & Bourke (1999) as “the systematic consideration of all relevant costs and revenues associated with the acquisition and ownership of an asset”||(1) Initial costs and (2) operational costs|
Of all of them, FCA is vaguely seen as a very important management tool [133,134], which has made it a common subject of discussion in academic and business circles [135,136]. We summarize its main advantages and drawbacks in Table 2 [9,16,17,19,137] that FCA could get to achieve if FCA investigate further information, thus making its development widespread for forms to be disclosed to make possible widespread comparison and understanding.
|It allows comparability between companies||Determination of the scope of the company’s operations|
|It uses some concepts from traditional accounting and information about the current cost which, though not easy to obtain, is relatively honest||Get the information necessary for measurement and assessment of impacts|
|It translates sustainability into business language||The different assessment methods give a wide range of values|
|It helps to gain better knowledge of the company’s operation and to change different ways of doing business which were taken for granted||Lack of company personnel training and knowledge for its introduction|
|It encourages companies’ self-regulation and stimulates their proactivity to anticipate more demanding legal standards and regulations||Lack of incentives to its adoption|
|It demonstrates corporate commitment to SD and environmental matters||Ethical and moral questions|
|It relates all the company’s actions, being reflected in the company’s social benefit.|
It is therefore evident that it has the ability to provide accounting data or indicators to suggest which business activities were unsustainable , expressing sustainability in business language, monetary terms , making it a very useful tool for correct establishment of prices  or transfer rates.
In addition, by establishing a numerical value for sustainability, this will act like a radar by which the red light for the most polluting activities will be lit, which will help decision making and act as an indicator of where to focus attention to work for continuous improvement. In this context it would be like a kind of Activity Based Management (ABM), where activities which do not add value because their negative impact is greater than their positive impact from an economic, social and environmental point of view would be reduced and, so far as possible, eliminated.
However, the sign obtained in this result (net social profit or loss), has made companies reluctant to experiment with it and other measurement tools, due to fear of the foreseeable non-sustainability result and the negative impact on their reputation and image. We need to promote awareness that the costs generated by the FCA are not “real” in the sense that they need to be defrayed by the owners of the project , because unilateral assumption of these costs by companies would bring them unsupportable disadvantages. So we should encourage interest and experimentation because, as Bebbington & Gray  suggest, simply the whole process of working with a company to calculate its external benefits and costs can be more valuable than the financial datum obtained.
Even so, as Utne  points out, this monetary valuation can provide an important added value in a decision making context, by highlighting the economic importance of the situation of the systems, so becoming the best way to make decision makers and through them, the rest of society, aware of the value of conservation of the environment.
However, although these SD performance assessments can be carried out transparently and defensibly as can be seen from the literature, their application is difficult.
2.3. Publication of Social and Environmental Information: Rendering of Accounts
The degree of importance of information flow to the stakeholders will depend on the company’s will to provide it, as well as the power the stakeholders have to demand it Gray et al. .
Based on the theoretical model presented, in order to identify any environmental problems and improvements, a sequential process needs to be followed consisting of applying a series of accounting techniques to measure the environmental performance, followed by auditing of the information obtained, after which accounts are rendered and the information reported to the stakeholders .
In this context, the concept of rendering sustainability accounts and Social Corporate Responsibility transparency has been swiftly developed and spread in recent decades , though revelation of sustainability, while becoming more important, it is still a relatively unexplored aspect of this . Companies publish this kind of information not only to satisfy the needs of interest groups (stakeholder theory) [140,141,142], but also with the eventual goal of legitimation of their activities (legitimacy theory) [16,143,144,145,146,147,148,149]; to discharge the company’s responsibility by presenting this social and environmental information voluntarily (accountability theory) [10,150]; because of institutional pressure (institutional sociology) [27,151,152]; to improve its reputation ; or the distribution of wealth and power to society (theory of political economics) [154,155,156,157].
Therefore, as Brown  indicates, there is a general recognition of the need for “new forms of rendering of accounts”, as well as new forms of participation, facilitating, as well as information, decision making by the groups affected by the company’s activity [26,33,34,35,36,37], where the discursive importance of accounting is fundamental. Research into the form of dissemination of social and environmental assessments should be encouraged, and we will now attempt to consider this matter .
3. Results and Discussion
3.1. Study Design
To extend evidence of the innovation of these new management accounting systems beyond Britain, America and Scandinavia [158,159], a survey has been used, and distributed among the managers of the large Spanish companies (which report and integrate the Social Corporate Responsibility model to the greatest extent reported by Bhattacharya , Brundtland , Horváth & Partners , Bogsnes ), belonging to the sectors affected by the regulations of the Kyoto Protocol (Annex I to Directive 2003/87/CE), identified in the National Classification of Economic Activities 2009 (Royal Decree 475/2007) as electrical power, oil refining, coke plants, metallurgy, cement, glass, ceramic products and paper and cardboard manufacturing. After consultation of the SABI database, the questionnaire was supplied through a web site created for the purpose or sent by post to the 440 companies, which had been contacted by telephone to obtain their e-mail address or, failing this, postal address.
The purpose of this study being to test the theoretical model in order to find out about (i) strategic positioning with regard to SD; (ii) the introduction of and possibilities of experimentation with measurement of companies’ sustainability, and, (iii) the publication of social and environmental information, in accordance with the study by Fernández & Larrinaga , the design of the questionnaire is divided into three different blocks. Most previous studies of the role of the Environmental Management Accounting have mainly been carried out by mail questionnaires and focusing especially on companies in sectors with an important effect on the environment (such as chemicals, electricity, etc.) [164,165,166,167,168] and case studies [18,169,170,171,172,173]. It is also made up of a total of 15 questions, most using Likert scales from 1 (totally disagree) to 7 (totally agree) or dichotomic (YES/NO) questions (the values of which were changed into a 0–1 scale). It was subjected to a measurement scale reliability analysis, which returned a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.963, which, being above 0.9 indicates excellent overall reliability of the measurement scale.
With regard to the methods used, the data series obtained was subjected to Harman’s one-factor test to discount the existence of a single pattern on the variation caused by the existence of a single data source [10,174].
Univariate analysis was carried out on the frequency of the variables, and bivariate analysis was carried out using Pearson’s r correlation coefficient to try to find out the relationships between the values of the variables in two’s, so obtaining a host of correlations (positive and negative) which show a high degree of internal coherence of the replies obtained and the hypotheses posed.
Cluster analysis was carried out to determine groups of companies which are internally homogeneous with regard to strategic positioning in terms of the environment, but different from each other [10,64,65,66]. Non-hierarchical procedures were preferred for this purpose because they have two main advantages over hierarchical ones : results are less susceptible to outliers and, by an iterative process, cases are progressively assigned to each group so that, in the final solution, the dispersion among the individuals in the same group is as low as possible while the difference between groups is maximum .
ANOVA or analysis of variance analysis was then carried out on each of the clusters obtained, followed by analysis of the F statistic to check whether the differences between groups of the variables chosen for the classification were significant and so identify whether they are really effective in characterization of the clusters. Also to check whether the variables used in the study to define the different clusters explain the probability of a company belonging to one group or another, various LOGIT analyses or logistic regressions were carried out.
Considering the results obtained with these techniques and in the previous literature, we proposed a series of hypothesis tests to verify them. In addition, the confidence intervals were calculated from the results in order to obtain the limits for each category or group identified within which the quantitative values of the variables fell.
3.2.1. Response Rate
From the 440 companies comprising the population, 195 correct replies were received, making a response rate of 44.32%, which can be considered a fairly acceptable proportion. In addition, looking at the people who replied to the questionnaire, just as happened to Fernández & Larrinaga , we found that not all the respondents were the executive managers to whom the survey had been directed, but had a wide range of positions (we suppose this is because of time restraints). Furthermore, more important than this high response rate is the fact that a representative sample of the population was obtained , with the companies which control the market or occupy the top places in terms of sales, market share, capital and number of employees in each sector. Nevertheless, the survey respondents belonged to management, although only 10.2% of them occupied the top position. The position of 8.2% of the survey respondents was Accounting and/or Administration Manager, and 47.2% were Environment Managers (compared with 22% for the previous authors).
3.2.2. Representation of the Sectors of Activity
By sector of activity, the replies obtained are related to the proportion of companies comprising the initial population of 440 companies, also being representative of the companies with most strategic capacity in each of the sectors analyzed. In this regard, the sector with the greatest specific weight, “Energy Activities”, in which are the various forms of electrical power activities, represent 53.3% of the final configuration of replies obtained, and oil refining represents 2.6%. The sectors which have less specific weight are: “Industrial Minerals” 18%, “Metallurgy” 16.9% and “Other Activities” (“Paper Pulp, Paper and Cardboard” and “Chemicals”) 9.2%.
3.2.3. Identification of Business Groups by Sustainable Environmental Behavior Adopted. Result of the Cluster Analysis
With the aim of establishing groups with differentiating environmental behavior, the first step was to apply non-hierarchical K-mean cluster analysis (Quick Cluster) to these variables: (1) hierarchical position of the Environment Manager (PRM); (2) business strategy (PE); (3) environmental commitment (PAS); (4) perception of the managers (PS); (5) legal and moral responsibility (PN); and, (6) aspects related to the achievement of SD (PDS). Four differentiated conglomerates were obtained as a result of the cluster analysis, the largest concentration of the 192 cases which were valid being in Cluster 3, which contains 48.96% of the companies comprising the study (Table 3).
|Table 3. Cluster Quick results on environmental strategic positioning. Number of cases per cluster. (Source: Authors.)|
|Number of cases per cluster|
|CLUSTER||Number of cases|
Next, to establish the relationships between different variables and environmental behavior, the ANOVA results were examined. These results indicate that all the statistical variables used were significant to a confidence level of 95%, except PN_3 (environmental regulations must be complied with), PDS_3 (SD is mainly the responsibility of public administrations) and PDS_7 (SD is achieved in my company) (Table 4).
|Table 4. Cluster Quick results on environmental strategic positioning: ANOVA. (Source: Authors.)|
|Resultados del Quick Clúster: ANOVA|
|Media cuadrática||gl||Media cuadrática||gl|
This significance shows that all these variables contribute to the same extent towards the formation of the four strategic environmental positioning groups we have identified, which also means better determination of environmental positioning than in previous literature. This was significant even with regard to the perception of managers of the environmental problem (PS) which was not significant in Fernández & Larrinaga , and the position of the environment manager, the general strategy followed by the company and aspects related with achieving SD, variables added to previous studies.. So we can conclude that the four groups obtained quantitatively were well discriminated, i.e., they have different behavior from one another.
To corroborate this statement still further, we applied different ANOVA (Table 5, Table 6) and LOGIT (Table 6) analyses to all the variables analyzed in all the groups, both qualitative (data series obtained from the survey) and quantitative (data obtained from the SABI). Comparing the results of the two analyses, there is, in general, a great coincidence in the results obtained.
|Table 5. Summary of the mean values for the significant variables for each of the different groups identified in the cluster analysis. ( Source: Authors.)|
|STRATEGIC POSITIONING WITH REGARD TO SUSTAINABILITY DEVELOPMENT|
|Predisposition of Management (PS)||7||3||4.50||4|
|SPECIFIC INITIATIVES (PAS)||Administrative||0.75||0.58||0.92||0.82|
|ACHIEVING SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (PDS)||Imagen||6.67||5.33||5.67||5.33|
|DISCLOSURE SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION|
|MEANS USED (DME)||Conventional||4.93||3.24||5.52||4.17|
|Focus on the environment||5.20||2.52||5.40||3.36|
|POSSITIVE EFFECTS (DPO)||Corporate Image||6.76||5.10||6.09||6.02|
|NEGATIVE EFFECTS (DPO)||2.38||3.58||3.81||2.96|
|ISSUES DISCLOSED||Known (DQC)||0.99||0,79||0.97||0.88|
|MEASUREMENT OF COMPANY SUSTAINABILITY|
|ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS (MIMA)||Signification||5.55||3.56||5.42||4.92|
|SOCIAL IMPACTS (MIES)||Signification||6.53||4.76||6.23||5.88|
|Financial aspects primacy||2.72||4.50||3.46||3.53|
|Assets (mill. €)||2.62||99||1440||325|
|EBIT (mill. €)||117.5||1.70||51.98||11.6|
|Revenue (mill. €)||1074||71||1304||320|
|Number of employees||614||153||423||441|
|Stock Market Trading||2.9%||4.3%||6.4%||4.9%|
|Return On Investment||74.24%||1.21%||19.60%||12.99%|
|Type of corporation||Inc. (58.8%); Ltd. (41.2%)||Inc. (73.4%); Ltd. (17.4%)||Inc. (72.3%); Ltd. (27.4%)||Inc. (73.2%); Ltd. (24.4%)|
|Corporate Strategy (PE)||Excellence production process (55.9%); Customer focus (38.2%)||Product Leadership (30.9%); Cost Leadership (26.1%)||Competitive advantage (57.4%); Excellence production process (20.2%)||Product Leadership (43.9%); Customer focus (26.8%)|
|Environment Manager (PRM)||Mid-level Management (58.8%) y High-level Management (38.2%)||Assistant Manager (47.8%); Department Director (21.7%)||Dirección (47.8%); Department High-level Management (28.7%)||Department Director (46.3%); Mid-Level Management (14.6%); Assistant Manager(14.6%)|
|TOTAL : 192||34 (17.7%)||23 (11.98%)||94 (48.96%)||41 (21.35%)|
|Table 6. Results of ANOVA analysis of the variables that were significant with a confidence level of 95% with respect to disclosure, sustainability measurement and quantitative characteristics or variables of each firms cluster. (Source: Authors.)|
|VARIABLES||CONGLOMERADO 1||CONGLOMERADO 2||CONGLOMERADO 3||CONGLOMERADO 4|
|DISCLOSURE SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION|
|REASONS (DMO)||All significant except DMO_1||All significant except DMO_1||DMO_2; DMO_5||DMO_5|
|MEANS USED (DME)||All significant except DME_1; DME_6; DME_11||All significant||All significant except DME_7||All significant except DME_4; DME_5|
|POSSITIVE AND NEGATIVE EFFECTS (DPO)||All significant except DPO_3||All significant except DPO_2; DPO_4||DPO_2; DPO_4; DPO_10||DPO_4; DPO_10|
|SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL KNOWLEDGE (REC_DQC)||REC_DQC_11 y REC_DQC_13||All significant except REC_DQC_1, REC_DQC_9; REC_DQC_10||REC_DQC_1; REC_DQC_5; REC_DQC_9; REC_DQC_11; REC_DQC_12; REC_DQC_13; REC_DQC_14||REC_DQC_1; REC_DQC_5; REC_DQC_7; REC_DQC_9; REC_DQC_10; REC_DQC_11; REC_DQC_13|
|INFORMATION ON SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS (REC_DQI)||All significant except REC_DQI_1; REC_DQI_2; REC_DQI_3; REC_DQI_11; REC_DQI_13||All significant except REC_DQI_14||All significant||REC_DQI_1; REC_DQI_2; REC_DQI_3; REC_DQI_10; REC_DQI_11; REC_DQI_13; REC_DQI_14|
|STAKEHOLDERS (DGI)||All significant||All significant||DGI_1; DGI_5; DGI_9; DGI_11||DGI_1; DGI_2; DGI_3; DGI_5; DGI_6; DGI_7; DGI_10; DGI_11|
|MEASUREMENT OF COMPANY SUSTAINABILITY|
|SIGNIFICANCE OF ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS (MIMA_S)||All significant except MIMA_S2; MIMA_S3; MIMA_S5||All significant except MIMA_S4; MIMA_S5; IMA_S11||All significant except MIMA_S1; MIMA_S5; MIMA_S7; MIMA_S8||All significant except MIMA_S1; MIMA_S3; MIMA_S5|
|QUANTIFICATION OF ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS (MIMA_V)||All significant except MIMA_V2; MIMA_V3; MIMA_V4; MIMA_V5||All significant except MIMA_V4; MIMA_V5; MIMA_V10||All significant except MIMA_V5; MIMA_V7; MIMA_V8; MIMA_V9||All significant except MIMA_V5|
|SIGNIFICANCE OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL IMPACTS (MIES_S)||All significant except MIES_S3||All significant except MIES_S2||All significant except MIES_S2||All significant|
|QUANTIFICATION OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL IMPACTS (MIES_V)||All significant except MIES_V3||All significant except MIES_V2||All significant except MIES_V1; MIES_V2; MIES_V6||All significant|
|IMPLEMENTATION AND INTEREST OF FCA (MI)||MI_1||MI_1; MI_2; MI_3||MI_1; MI_2||MI_1; MI_2|
|MEASUREMENT OF COMPANY SUSTAINABILITY|
|POSSITIVE ASPECTS OF FCA (MSPO)||MSPO_2; MSPO_3; MSPO_4; MSPO_5; MSPO_6 y MSPO_13||All significant except MSPO_6; MSPO_14; MSPO_15||All significant except MSPO_2; MSPO_3||All significant except MSPO_6|
|DIFFICULTIES IN IMPLEMENTING THE FCA (MSDI)||All significant except MSDI_1; MSDI_8; MSDI_10 y MSDI_14||MSDI_1; MSDI_6; MSDI_7||MSDI_1; MSDI_4||MSDI_3; MSDI_7|
|Company Characteristics||LEGAL FORM; SECTOR, WORKING CAPITAL, STRENGTH, LIQUIDITY, FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE, DATE OF INCORPORATION||AMORTIZATION; ACTIVE||AMORTIZATION; NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES||WORKING CAPITAL; STRENGTH; LIQUIDITY; DATE OF INCORPORATION; OPERATING INCOME|
When the significant variables for the formation of the groups had been established from the results obtained in the analyses above, we determined the mean descriptive statistic for each, showing the different environmental strategic positioning followed by the companies being studied. If we group the values of these variables into factors, and enlarge the study to the sustainability measurement and dissemination part, the results are as shown in Table 6, Table 7, after which we will examine their features.
|Table 7. Summary of the proposed logit model. (Source: Authors.)|
|VARIABLES||CONGLOMERADO 1||CONGLOMERADO 2||CONGLOMERADO 3||CONGLOMERADO 4|
|DISCLOSURE SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION|
|REASONS (DMO)||C_1 = β0 + β1 (DMO_2) + β2 (DMO_5)||C_2 = β1 (DMO_5)||C_3 = β1 (DMO_3) + β2 (DMO_5)||C_4 = β1 (DMO_2)|
|MEANS USED (DME)||C_1 = β1 (DME_1) + β2 (DME_11)||C_2 = β0 + β1 (DME_10)||C_3 = β0 + β1 (DME_1) + β2 (DME_4) + β3 (DME_7) + β4 (DME_10) + β5 (DME_11)||C_4 = β1 (DME_3) + β2 (DME_4) + β3 (DME_11)|
|POSSITIVE AND NEGATIVE EFFECTS (DPO)||C_1 = β0 + β1 (DPO_2) + β2 (DPO_3) + β3 (DPO_4) + β4 (DPO_9)||C_2 = β1 (DPO_1) + β2 (DPO_2) + β3 (DPO_3)||C_3 = β1 (DPO_1) + β2 (DPO_2) +β3 (DPO_3) + β4 (DPO_4) + β5 (DPO_5) + β6 (DPO_6) + β7 (DPO_7) + β9 (DPO_9)||C_4 = β1 (DPO_3) + β2 (DPO_4)|
|SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL KNOWLEDGE (REC_DQC) AND INFORMATION ON SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS (REC_DQI)||-||-||C_3 = β1 (DQC_10) + β2 (DQC_11) + β3 (DQI_2) + β4 (DQI_5) + β5 (DQI_6) + β6 (DQI_7)||-|
|STAKEHOLDERS (DGI)||C_1 = β0 + β1 (DGI_2) + β2 (DGI_9) + β3 (DGI_10)||C_2 = β1 (DGI_1) + β2 (DGI_2) + β3 (DGI_3) + β4 (DGI_4) + β5 (DGI_5) + β6 (DGI_6) + β7 (DGI_8) + β8 (DGI_9) + β9 (DGI_11)||C_3 = β1 (DGI_4) + β2 (DGI_5) + β3 (DGI_9)||C_4 = β1 (DGI_2) + β2 (DGI_5) + β3 (DGI_7) + β4 (DGI_9)|
|MEASUREMENT OF COMPANY SUSTAINABILITY|
|IMPLEMENTATION AND INTEREST OF FCA (MI)||C_1 = β0 + β1 (MI_1) + β2 (MI_4)||C_2 = β1 (MI_3)||C_1 = β1 (MI_2) + β2 (MI_3) + β3 (MI_4)||-|
|SIGNIFICANCE OF ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS (MIMA_S) AND QUANTIFICATION OF ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS (MIMA_V)||-||C_2 = β0 + β1 (MIMA_S6) + β2 (MIMA_S10) + β3 (MIMA_S11) + β4 (MIMA_V4) + β5 (MIMA_V11)||C_3 = β0 + β1 (MIMA_S2) + β2 (MIMA_S8) + β3 (MIMA_S9) + β4 (MIMA_S10) + β5 (MIMA_V8) + β6 (MIMA_V9) + β7 (MIMA_V9)||C_4 = β1 (MIMA_S3) + β2 (MIMA_S6) + β3 (MIMA_S11) + β4 (MIMA_V6) + β5 (MIMA_V10)|
|SIGNIFICANCE OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL IMPACTS (MIES_S) AND QUANTIFICATION OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL IMPACTS (MIES_V)||-||C_2 = β0||C_3 = β0 + β1 (MIES_S1) + β2 (MIMA_S3) + β3 (MIMA_V3)||C_4 = β0|
|POSSITIVE ASPECTS OF FCA (MSPO)||-||C_2 = β0 + β1 (MSPO_4) + β2 (MSPO_9) + β3 (MSPO_13) + β4 (MSPO_14)||C_3 = β0 + β1 (MSPO_1) + β2 (MSPO_3) + β3 (MSPO_4) + β4 (MSPO_6) + β5 (MSPO_8) + β6 (MSPO_14) + β7 MSPO_19)||C_4 = β1 (MSPO_1) + β2 (MSPO_2) + β3 (MSPO_5) + β4 (MSPO_7) + β5 (MSPO_8) + β6 (MSPO_10) + β7 MSPO_14) + β8 (MSPO_15) + β9 (MSPO_19)|
|DIFFICULTIES IN IMPLEMENTING THE FCA (MSDI)||-||C_2 = β0 + β1 (MSDI_6) + β2 (MSDI_7) + β3 (MSDI_8)||C_3 = β1 (MSDI_2) + β2 (MSDI_4) + β3 (MSDI_5) + β4 (MSDI_7) + β5 (MSDI_8) + β6 (MSDI_9) + β7 (MSDI_11) + β8 (MSDI_13)||C_4 = β1 (MSDI_1) + β2 (MSDI_3) + β3 (MSDI_5) + β4 (MSDI_6)|
|Company Characteristics||REC (Recoded)||C_1 = β0 + β1 (REC_LegalForm) + β2 (REC_ActivitySector)||-||-||-|
|Z (Discretized)||C_1 = β0 + β1 (Z_FinancialPerformance) + β2 (Z_NumbEmployees)||C_2 = β0 + β1 (Z_Debt)||C_3 = β1 (Z_WorkingCapital) + β2 (Z_FinancialStrenght) + β3 (Z_NumbEmployees) +β4 (Z_Active)||C_4 = β1 (Z_WorkingCapital) + β2 (Z_Deadlock) + β3 (Z_EBIT) + β4 (Z_ConstitutionDate) + β5 (Z_OperatingIncome) +β6 (Z_Active)|
Therefore, each cluster is defined by the following characteristics:
Conglomerate 1: “Proactive Image”
Positioning with regard to SD: Innovative/active strategies, with management commitment and the full assumption of legal and moral responsibilities. Even so, although they consider internal changes indispensable (structure and management), this predisposition does not materialize as environmental actions to the necessary degree and with the necessary coherency of action (mainly: environmental policy, environment manager is a high position, environmental protection manual or process and product life cycle analysis). This is why we have called this group “Proactive Image”, instead of proactive, because they seek SD in order to achieve good corporate image (reputation) and social approval (legitimacy).
Publication of social and environmental information: By way of confirmation, this group has the highest results for all stakeholders as recipients of this information (especially locals, customers and ecologists) and with regard to the different means of publication (mainly sustainability and environmental reports, web sites, talks and presentations). However, especially on the fact that, in spite of knowing all the social and environmental impacts of their activities, this does not translate into subsequent rendering of accounts.
Measurement of company sustainability: In spite of the proactivity shown by this group of companies in some of the variables used to determine environmental sustainability, this is the second least likely, after Conglomerate 2 (the least proactive), to have experience of FCA, indicating the increase in price of products and lack of personnel training as the main impediments to its implementation.
Company characteristics: Most are constituted as limited companies, and 94.1% belong to the electricity sector. The environment manager has a management position in 97% of cases (average level 58.8%). They have the highest values in financial, organizational and strategic capacity: the lower proportion which is traded on the stock market consists of the most recently established ones.
Conglomerate 2: Defensive
Positioning with regard to SD: Defensive/non-innovative strategies, where the predisposition of management towards SD is negative, moral responsibility minimum, and the acceptance of legal responsibility neutral. In addition this group has the lowest values with regard to social and environmental initiatives undertaken i.e. essentially, publication of information, application for investment grants or the achievement of certification (none of these companies has EMAS certification and the average with ISO certificates is 57%)), also in the benefits brought by achievement of SD, however, the highest in the disadvantages. For these reasons, we call this strategy “Defensive”. Its positive aspect is that it attributes the highest value to worker training, generating good future expectations.
Publication of social and environmental information: Less involvement in publication, shown in the lower values found when the following are considered: (i) the satisfaction of interest groups as a reason for publication (especially, regulators and financiers); (ii) use of different media (traditional, environmental or other alternatives); (iii) the benefits arising from rendering of accounts; (iv) the significance of and information about impacts caused.
Measurement of company sustainability: Strategic passiveness is seen in the lack of experimentation with the use of means of sustainability assessment, in which they see few benefits and a lot of impediments to their introduction. In addition, they give the lowest values with regard to the significance and assessment of the three kinds of impact, especially environmental impact.
Company characteristics: Strategies based on cost and product, where the head of environmental management does not have a management position. It consists of companies in most of the sectors analyzed. It has the lowest values for financial, organizational and strategic capacity.
Conglomerate 3: Leadership (Innovation or Anticipatory)
Positioning with regard to SD: These companies are: (i) Innovative: active, innovative business strategies, with the highest values for the introduction of social and environmental initiatives (administrative, studies and certification). They innovate in: full cost accounting (FCA); clean technology (importance attached to the need for investment aid or aid for technology to achieve SD); internal changes (structure, attitudes and values); (ii) Proactive and anticipatory: Predisposition to comply with legislation (although to a lesser extent than Conglomerate 1, perhaps, because of the generalized belief in this group that they do not have as much impact as other sectors), and even to anticipate and adopt greater commitment than legally required; (iii) Leaders: there is more homogeneous distribution over the sectors comprising this group of companies, it consists of the leading companies in each sector of activity. For this reason we have called it “Leadership”.
Publication of social and environmental information: Main motivation for publication: to satisfy all stakeholders (mainly, customers and shareholders), using all available media for this purpose (mainly web site, talks and presentations). They consider the effects of this rendering of accounts to be very positive, though the fact that the values are less high than in Conglomerate 1 may be due to the fact that, in contrast to Conglomerate 1, this group of companies has the highest values with regard to the drawbacks of publishing this kind of information. In addition, like Conglomerate 1, the company knows all the impacts it causes, with the difference that in this conglomerate accounts are also rendered to a high degree, i.e., although they consider it to have disadvantages, they render accounts about most of the economic, social and environmental impacts caused by their activities. This shows that they really seek transparency of information and the discharge of accountability.
Measurement of company sustainability: They consider the significance and valuation of all impacts to be very important, so have the highest proportion of implementation, types of and interest in future experimentation with FCA, indicating its excessive complexity, the lack of suitability of the assessment methods and the lack of personnel training as the main impediments to this.
Company characteristics: It comprises companies in all the sectors. In 47.9% of cases the head of environmental management has a management position (much less than Conglomerate 1). It has the largest proportion of stock-market traded companies. Together with Conglomerate 1, it has the highest values for financial, organizational and strategic capability.
Conglomerate 4: Legalistic
Positioning with regard to SD: Like Conglomerate 1, the perceived legal responsibility is high, and the greater the moral responsibility the higher it is. However, whereas in Conglomerate 1 there was complete predisposition, management here maintains a neutral position. This is why it has been called “Legalistic”. So in matters related to certification, it carries out numerous social and environmental initiatives (especially administrative and diagnostic).
Publication of social and environmental information: With regard to social and environmental aspects, awareness is lower than that of Conglomerates 1 and 3 but, nevertheless, rendering of accounts with regard to them is almost the same as Conglomerate 1 (theoretically more proactive and predisposed), which reinforces nominations imposed. So all stakeholders are targets for this information (mainly town and city councils, insurance companies and, to a lesser extent, investment funds).
Measurement of company sustainability: After Conglomerate 3, it has the highest values for implementation of and interest in FCA, generating good expectations of future experimentation with sustainability measuring tools. The main difficulties found here are also excessive complexity, lack of suitability of the assessment tools and lack of personnel training, in this case the lack of incentives and management support being the least impediment, as a result of their declared neutrality.
Company characteristics: With highly diverse activities, this conglomerate has the lowest figures after Conglomerate 2 for some indicators reflecting the availability of resources (financial, organizational, etc.) of these companies (this is not the case for financial profitability (ROI), soundness or debt ratio), which are, on average, the oldest.
There are two aspects common to all the conglomerates with regard to measurement of sustainability: (1) The possibility of comparing the sustainability of companies or sectors is considered its least important benefit; (2) They attribute greater significance and possible valuation to social and economic impacts, compared with environmental ones, the least significant and least value being the “social impact of products.” Both these matters reflect companies’ reluctance to motu proprio commitment and suggest the need to propose a minimum level of compulsion to achieve global sustainability.
3.2.4. Results of the Hypothesis Testing
Based on the results of the empirical analysis and on the literature analyzed, we carried out different hypothesis tests to try to determine the discriminating elements for the strategic positioning adopted by companies in relation to SD. Table 8 shows the elements which were shown to be significant and directly determinant for that positioning.
SD has become the most pragmatic, popular way to seek global sustainability mainly because more extreme positions are not socially, economically or politically acceptable, and to the fact that it includes a broad umbrella of options allowing its interpretation in very different ways as the possible result of very different actions.
|Table 8. Determinants of strategic positioning with regard to Sustainability Development.|
|STRATEGIC POSITIONING WITH REGARD TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT|
|Aspects related with the strategy adopted with regard to SUSTAINABILITY DEVELOPMENT|
|Publication of social and environmental information|
|Measurement of business sustainability|
In this context, analysis of 192 large Spanish companies belonging to sectors constrained by the Kyoto Protocol returned us four, highly differentiated strategies with regard to SD, which run from (a) defensive or reactive strategies, where introduction of social and environmental measures is low key because of a negative predisposition towards environmental protection; to (b) legalistic strategies, simply involving scrupulous compliance with legislation, considered as above the moral responsibility of the company; (c) proactive image strategies, in which, although there is a high perception of and commitment to SD, the actions carried out are especially intended to promote the company’s image and reputation; and (d) leadership strategies, in which the behavior is of leadership and anticipation and where transparency together with discharge of accountability become really effective, and the company renders accounts of practically the economic, social and environmental impacts (positive and negative) it causes. We have found that adoption of greater strategic proactivity is directly related with greater:
Publication of social and environmental information.
Involvement in achievement and measurement of the company’s contribution to SD.
Impact of business activity.
Strategic innovation and proactivity.
Financial, organizational and strategic capabilities of the company and greater public exposure.
We have found that, there is a great deal of talk about the need to measure the “SD result” or determine the “sustenance level of the activity,” or to render accounts based on transparency and discharge accountability. Therefore, immediate measures should be taken in all fields, because: (i) there has not been much practical application, mainly because of companies’ reluctance to declare the non-sustainability of their activities, with the consequent effect on their image and reputation, and (ii) empirical accounting research has been insufficient, sporadic and unconnected, because, based on such a “politically plastic” concept, it needs to play a far more active, participatory and dialogic role, even turning researchers into (co) creators of a kind of accounting which deals with understanding. This means that it needs to be developed by experts with experience of this subject, in a limited number of companies which are receptive to the idea.
I would like to thank D. Antonio Fernández Fernández contributions made to this research. I would also like to acknowledge the suggestions made by two anonymous reviewers. All of them have substantially improved this paper.
Conflict of Interest
The author declares no conflict of interest.
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