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Legal Considerations in Voluntary Corporate Environmental Reporting

May 2000

Citation: ELR 10375

Author: David W. Case

Formal corporate environmental reports—voluntary periodic communication by companies of information about their environmental activities and performance in a single document generally analogous to an annual report—began to appear at the end of the 1980s.1 By 1995, over 100 Fortune 500 companies issued formal environmental reports.2 Some companies embrace these reports as a useful internal management tool and external stakeholder communication vehicle. Others have been reluctant to produce such reports, with reasons varying from perceptions that little "demand" exists for such information, questions about the report's usefulness, and lack of evidence that the benefits of producing such a report outweigh its costs. Once the company has made the decision to produce a formal report, however, a number of critical concerns in determining the substance of the report come into play. Included among these are various legalconsiderations and issues.

Although countries recently have begun to impose such requirements (notably Denmark and the Netherlands),3 no legal requirement in the United States mandates preparation and release of such reports. Nonetheless, the past decade witnessed a significant increase in the number of American companies voluntarily joining the growing worldwide trend toward producing and publicly releasing formal corporate environmental reports on a periodic basis.4 Even absent compulsory regulation, several factors motivate companies to periodically produce formal environmental reports. In the United States, the impetus to voluntarily prepare and release such reports is at least partially attributed to mandatory legal requirements to release certain environmental data for public consumption.5

An earlier version of this Dialogue was presented at a two-day workshop entitled "Corporate Environmental Reports: The State of the Art and Beyond" sponsored by the Vanderbilt Center for Environmental Management Studies (VCEMS) on January 26-27, 2000, in Nashville, Tennessee. The workshop included presentations by companies (such as General Motors and Baxter International) at the leading edge of environmental reporting discussing unique aspects of their reports, and by participants involved in the Global Reporting Initiative and other environmental measurement, reporting, and standardization efforts. The workshop sponsor, VCEMS, is an interdisciplinary research center jointly led by the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies, the School of Engineering, the Owen Graduate School of Management, and the Law School.

Mr. Case is a Bridgestone/Firestone Fellow, Vanderbilt Center for Environmental Management Studies (VCEMS). The author is also a Ph.D. candidate (Environmental Law, Management, and Policy) at Vanderbilt University. Mr. Case received a B.A. in 1985, a J.D. in 1988, University of Mississippi, and received an LL.M. in 1993, Columbia University.

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