Disclosure of climate change strategies in the sustainability reports of tourism and leisure companies worldwide

Overview of special issue

Tourism and leisure businesses create a large carbon footprint (Lenzen et al., 2018; Scott et al, 2019). The operation of tourism businesses requires large amounts of fossil fuels. This generates carbon dioxide emissions, which are one of the main causes of climate change. Lenzen et al. (2018) find that tourism is responsible for about eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Transport, shopping and food are major contributors.

Tourism businesses not only contribute to climate change and need to manage their land and energy use in environmentally sensitive areas, but are also threatened by it (sun and beach as well as winter tourism).

Challenges include greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation to renewable energy sources, soil erosion and air pollution, water scarcity, and impacts on biodiversity and vegetation.

Annual reports from tourism and leisure businesses show that they are increasingly aware of their environmental responsibilities and are trying to mitigate potentially negative impacts on the environment, by using less or clean energy, water and materials as well as environmentally friendly business practices. Many tourism firms employ new technologies and active measures to cut down carbon dioxide emissions. Others introduce environmental criteria for suppliers, and new methods of waste emissions, materials and recycling. Different environmental certification schemes have been developed since the 1990s and are now widespread (Font, 2002). Todd and Williams (1996) pioneered a proposal of environmental audits or management systems to evaluate the effectiveness of environmentally friendly practices in the leisure industry. In fact, ISO 14001 are widely used in the tourism industry (Font, 2002).

Destinations also try to keep the number of means of transport within the destination low or use vehicles that run on non-fossil fuels. More and more tourism businesses (transportation, car rental, hotels, recreation facilities, sport, golf, park and amusement firms, ski lift operators, tour operators) are reporting on their sustainability practices, producing separate sustainability reports or implementing environmental management systems.

Environmental and sustainability reporting is an important strategy to disclose information about different climate change mitigation and adaptation practices. Starting from the early 1990s onwards, firms increasingly disclose information about their environmental sustainability efforts on their websites. Content analysis based on website disclosure is widespread (Jose and Lee, 2007). Some firms integrate a corporate sustainability report (CSR) in their annual report or provide a separate CSR or sustainability report. Studies reveal that progress in environmental performance and the extent of voluntary environmental reporting go hand in hand (Clarkson, Li, Richardson and Vasvari, 2008). One of the most widely used practices is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), founded in 1997. GRI is a framework that helps firms to produce sustainability reports that include the economic, social and environmental impact of their businesses (Willis, 2003; del Mar Alonso‐Almeida, Llach and Marimon, 2014). Other sustainability reporting initiatives are the United Nations Global Compact programme that have ten principles of which three refer to environmental sustainability (Rasche, 2009).

The nature of disclosure of environmental sustainability practices depends on several factors. One is that a firm has a proactive environmental strategy. These include organisational learning, shared vision, cross-functional integration, stakeholder engagement, strategic proactivity, and continuous innovation (Sharma et al., 2007). Another factor for sustainability reporting is government regulations and legislations. An increased sustainability reporting could well follow from government regulations or new laws. Generally, firms above a certain size are legally obliged to do so (France, Sweden and generally EU countries). In France, publicly listed firms are required to report on the social and environmental impacts of their operating activities under Section 116 of the New Economic Order Act adopted in 2001 Nouvelles Régulations Economiques, NRE) (Chelli, Durocher and Richard, 2014). Also in Sweden, firms above a certain size are legally obliged to prepare a sustainability report (Swedish Annual Accounts SFS 1995:1554, Chapter 6 § 10).

Firms with more proactive environmental strategies might experience pressure from stakeholders (Buysse and Verbeke, 2003). These stakeholders are not necessarily suppliers and customers, but include owners, investors, banks and authorities. As argued by Rivera and De Leon (2004) larger leisure firms experience more institutional pressure on their response to environmental challenges than smaller ones.

Indicative list of anticipated themes:

  • Participation in and exit from international sustainability reporting programmes (United Nations Global compact programme, Global reporting initiative GRI etc)
  • Risk assessment and risk management with respect to climate change
  • Proactive environmental strategy by management staff
  • Participation and implementation of environmental management systems (ISO 14001)
  • Role of management and stakeholders in environmental sustainability reporting
  • Environmental sustainability reporting related to monitoring of carbon footprint (e.g. CO2)
  • CSR strategies related to the environment: Zero emission goals, green electricity(achieved or planned), Carbon offset, online business meetings
  • Specific measures: Photovoltaic installations, Biodiesel/Renewable diesel, Fossil-free geothermal energy, Biomass heating plants
  • Use of locally sourced materials and planting of vegetation
  • Training activities in sustainability related areas
  • Progress in water consumption, emissions, energy consumption, biodiversity and circular resource management
  • Trends and comparison of carbon footprint measures of tourism enterprises (Emission intensity as a ratio of revenues)
  • International comparisons of environmental sustainability reporting and the role of environmental policy at country level
  • Environmental regulations (charging points for electric vehicles as standards for new buildings)
  • Measures to switch to renewable energy sources (water, wind, sun)
  • Monitoring of emissions by type (electricity, renewable fuels, fossil fuels, heating)
  • Environmental and green labels in the tourism and leisure industry Other themes may also be considered.

Submission Process and Deadlines. Publication of this special issue is planned for 2022.

Research teams that are interested in having their work reviewed for an open access journal are now invited to submit an abstract of 200 words.

This abstract should outline the paper and include the names and contact details of the authors, The abstract should be sent to the editorial team

at: [email protected] by the latest 30 September 2021.

Submissions should be prepared using the Manuscript Preparation Guidelines and via the journal submission system. Informal enquiries regarding the special issue, proposed topics and possible alignment with the aims of the special issue are welcome. Please contact the guest editors with any questions or suggestions.

The Editorial Team (send the abstract to [email protected])


Buysse, K., & Verbeke, A. (2003). Proactive environmental strategies: A stakeholder management perspective. Strategic Management Journal, 24(5), 453-470.

Chelli, M., Durocher, S., & Richard, J. (2014). France's new economic regulations: insights from institutional legitimacy theory. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 27(2), 283-316.

Clarkson, P., Li, Y., Richardson, G., and Vasvari, F. (2008). Revisiting the relation between environmental performance and environmental disclosure: an empirical analysis. Accounting Organizations and Society, 33 (4/5), 303–327.

del Mar Alonso‐Almeida, M., Llach, J., & Marimon, F. (2014). A closer look at the ‘Global Reporting Initiative’sustainability reporting as a tool to implement environmental and social policies: A worldwide sector analysis. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 21(6), 318-335.

Font, X. (2002). Environmental certification in tourism and hospitality: progress, process and prospects. Tourism Management, 23(3), 197–205.

Jose, A., & Lee, S. M. (2007). Environmental reporting of global corporations: A content analysis based on website disclosures. Journal of Business Ethics, 72(4), 307-321.

Lenzen, M., Sun, Y. Y., Faturay, F., Ting, Y. P., Geschke, A., & Malik, A. (2018). The carbon footprint of global tourism. Nature Climate Change, 8(6), 522-528.

Rasche, A. (2009). Toward a model to compare and analyze accountability standards–The case of the UN Global Compact. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 16(4), 192-205.

Rivera, J., & De Leon, P. (2004). Is Greener Whiter? Voluntary Environmental Performance of Western Ski Areas. Policy Studies Journal, 32(3), 417-437. doi:10.1111/j.1541-0072.2004.00073.x

Scott, D., Hall, C. M., & Gössling, S. (2019). Global tourism vulnerability to climate change. Annals of Tourism Research, 77, 49-61.

Sharma, S., Aragon-Correa, J.A., & Rueda-Manzanares, A. (2007). The contingent influence of ´ organizational capabilities on proactive environmental strategy in the service sector: An analysis of North American and European ski resorts. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 24(4), 268–283.

Todd, S. E., & Williams, P. W. (1996). From white to green: A proposed environmental management system framework for ski areas. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 4(3), 147-173.

Willis, A. (2003). The role of the global reporting initiative's sustainability reporting guidelines in the social screening of investments. Journal of Business Ethics, 43(3), 233-237.