Sustainability Reporting and XBRL

12 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2010  

Jon A. Baumunk

San Diego State University - College of Business Administration

Date Written: December 2, 2009

Abstract

According to van Marrewijk (2003), there is a small but essential distinction between corporate social responsibility and sustainability: corporate social responsibility relates to stakeholder dialogue and sustainability reporting, while the focus of corporate sustainability is on value creation and environmental management (as cited in Ciliberti et al., 2008, p. 89). This distinction implies that corporate sustainability is more internally focused and related to running the business, and that corporate social responsibility is more related to selling a business to external parties. However, if sustainability reporting is used for both external and internal purposes, the sustainability reporting process can be transformed to become more related to running the business (Leibs, 2007, December 1). This can occur if sustainability reports yield both external and internal reporting benefits. Effective internal sustainability reporting may be achieved, perhaps at a relatively low cost, via real-time reporting and data reuse made possible by extensible business reporting language (XBRL).

Currently, most corporations just concentrate on financial health as expressed through their profit and loss statements and balance sheets (“How accountants,” 2002, October 22). XBRL was originally developed to help process financial information (“Tag,” 2007, May) and was designed to properly associate business reporting data with externally focused financial reporting taxonomies (Garbellotto, 2006). However, XBRL may become even more significant for sustainability reporting than for financial reporting (Baue, 2007, April 16). Financial reporting is legally required for publicly traded companies, which means they do it universally (Baue, 2007, April 16). But sustainability reporting is mostly voluntary, which means XBRL may become a driving force in corporate sustainability reporting (Baue, 2007, April 16). XBRL’s use in sustainability reporting may help accelerate the combination of financial and sustainability data in a single annual report (Leibs, 2007, December 1). Therefore, more widespread use of sustainability reports may very well be linked to more widespread corporate adoption of XBRL for both financial and sustainability reporting purposes.

It is also likely that sustainability reporting will be more widespread if sustainability reports are used for both external and internal purposes, thereby making sustainability reporting more related to running the business and value creation. This would cause the emphasis of sustainability reporting to move away from corporate social responsibility and toward corporate sustainability.

Suggested Citation

Baumunk, Jon A., Sustainability Reporting and XBRL (December 2, 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1620567 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1620567

Jon A. Baumunk (Contact Author)

San Diego State University - College of Business Administration ( email )

5500 Campanile Drive
San Diego, CA 92182-8230
United States

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