PSC Sustainability Seminar with Professor Charles H. Cho: ‘Sustainability Reporting: Frontstage, Backstage, Façades and Hypocrisy’
Sustainability discourse (or reporting) is becoming ubiquitous. Yet, despite its potential to help corporations be more accountable and transparent about their social and environmental impacts, there has been growing criticism asserting that such reporting is utilized primarily as an impression management tool. This is illustrated by the contrast between the companies’ frontstage sustainability discourse on environmental stewardship and responsibility and their less visible but proactive backstage political activities (in Goffman’s terms) targeted to facilitate the passage of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) Bill – a legislation that would allow oil exploration and drilling of the most sensitive environmental areas in the Refuge. However, this persistent signiﬁcant gap between corporate sustainability talk and practice also leads us to argue that contradictory societal and institutional pressures, as well as conﬂicting stakeholder demands, require organizations to engage in hypocrisy and develop façades, thereby severely limiting the prospects that sustainability reports will ever evolve into substantive disclosures.