Failing the market, failing deliberative democracy: How scaling up corporate carbon reporting proliferates information asymmetries

Ingmar Lippert

Research output: Journal Article or Conference Article in JournalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Corporate carbon footprint data has become ubiquitous. This data is also highly promissory. But as this paper argues, such data fails both consumers and citizens. The governance of climate change seemingly requires a strong foundation of data on emission sources. Economists approach climate change as a market failure, where the optimisation of the atmosphere is to be evidence based and data driven. Citizens or consumers, state or private agents of control, all require deep access to information to judge emission realities. Whether we are interested in state-led or in neoliberal ‘solutions’ for either democratic participatory decision-making or for preventing market failure, companies’ emissions need to be known. This paper draws on 20 months of ethnographic fieldwork in a Fortune 50 company’s environmental accounting unit to show how carbon reporting interferes with information symmetry requirements, which further troubles possibilities for contesting data. A material-semiotic analysis of the data practices and infrastructures employed in the context of corporate emissions disclosure details the situated political economies of data labour along the data processing chain. The explicit consideration of how information asymmetries are socially and computationally shaped, how contexts are shifted and how data is systematically straightened out informs a reflexive engagement with Big Data. The paper argues that attempts to automatise environmental accounting’s veracity management by means of computing metadata or to ensure that data quality meets requirements through third-party control are not satisfactory. The crossover of Big Data with corporate environmental governance does not promise to trouble the political economy that hitherto sustained unsustainability.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBig Data & Society
Pages (from-to)1-13
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2016


  • Environmental governance
  • Enactment
  • environmental accounting
  • data quality
  • data practice
  • veracity management
  • environmental information
  • big data
  • small data
  • Environmental Management


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