Are Normalised Greenhouse Gas disclosures usable? The Case of Water and Sewerage Companies in England and Wales – 2007/8 - 2018/9

  • Wed 25 May 22

    14:00 - 16:00

  • Online

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  • Event speaker

    Professor Ian Thompson, Birmingham Business School

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars
    Essex Accounting Seminar (EAC) Research Seminar Series

  • Event organiser

    Essex Business School

  • Contact details

    Dr Chaoyuan She

The aim of the Essex Accounting Centre (EAC) research seminar series is to support our world-class research activities in five key areas: accounting and global development; capital Markets, audit, regulation & reporting; publicness and resilience, precarity, exclusion & social justice; and environment, climate change & vulnerability. The seminar series is also expected to promote inter-disciplinary research that links the work of members of the centre with others both within the university and with external institutions.

Seminar abstract

This paper explores whether normalised greenhouse gas (GHG) disclosures such as intensity ratios are usable. UK government legislation suggests that organisational disclosure of normalised GHG data is a key enabling factor in reducing GHG emissions. Requiring organisations to disclose normalised GHG data is argued to provide external stakeholders, primarily investors, with vital information enabling them to compare performance over time and across organisations to inform (investment) decisions. Normalised GHG data is designed to be performative in that their calculation and disclosure is expected to modify behaviour to achieve politically defined goals and norms. We analyse the normalised GHG data disclosed by Water and Sewerage Companies (WASC) in England and Wales from 2007/8 to 2018/9. Our sample period has characteristics of a natural experiment in that the WASC were required to disclose prescribed GHG emissions ratios to their regulator, Ofwat, for the years 2007/8 – 2010/11. These requirements were subsequently discontinued, but WASC continued to voluntarily report GHG intensity ratios. This allowed us to isolate the subsequent choices of each WASC and identify divergences in practices. Our analysis leads us to raise six interconnected concerns relating to GHG disclosures: illogical underpinning assumptions; incomplete data definition; levels of data uncertainty and inaccuracy; levels of data granularity; a misalignment with narrative disclosures; and an inability to signal meaningful corrective actions. Each of these concerns makes problematic any claims that such disclosures are usable but taken together they make any external interpretation of the GHG performance ratios effectively meaningless.


How to join this seminar

This seminar is free to attend with no need to register in advance

We welcome you to join us online on Wednesday 25 May at 2pm.


Speaker bio

Ian Thomson is Professor of Accounting and Sustainability at Birmingham Business School, convenor of the Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research, Director of the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business and. The objective of the Centre is to enable businesses to escape from the limiting, often self-destructive, consequences of intentional and unintentional irresponsibility. Ian has been researching topics relating to responsibility, sustainability and accountability for 30 years. This research has included studies on implementation of cleaner technology, effective stakeholder engagement, risk governance in water and salmon farming, sustainable development indicators, government policy making, climate change, effective pedagogy, use of accounting by activists, human rights, international development programmes and football clubs. His current projects include carbon accountability, operationalising the SDG for business and responsible business outcome measurement. He is the co-author of Urgent Business and a report Net Zero Accounting for a Net Zero UK and worked with Business in The Community to develop their Responsible Business Tracker. He was an expert reviewer for the latest IPCC report, called as an expert witness to Scottish Parliament, advisor to Scottish Parliament’s Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, and Cities and Infrastructure Committee, worked with CIMA, Sustainable Development Commission (Scotland), with The Princes Charity, as an accountability expert to UN World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation and even a judge for UK Responsible Business of the Year. He has been a board member of charities including Friends of the Earth (Scotland), C-Change, deafscotland, Carboncopy and G17Eco. In 2019 he was awarded BAFA Distinguished Academic of the year. Prior to becoming an academic he worked as a management accountant for NHS Scotland and BBC Scotland.

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