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Centre for Building Sustainable Value

Carolin Baier

Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Germany

Too good to be true: Influencing credibility perceptions with signaling reference explicitness and assurance depth



We investigate how the selection of assurance topics and the format of their communication influence the credibility perception of sustainability report readers. This is important because misleading communication may discredit ethical sustainability assurance practices. Based on signaling theory and using an experimental approach, we are the first to examine false credibility signals in the context of sustainability assurance. We find that two variables related to sustainability assurance, reference explicitness and assurance depth, jointly influence the assurance signal and the perceived credibility of a sustainability report. Our findings show that readers are not at risk of false signaling but can make incorrect interpretations of the assurance signal and might respond negatively to well-intentioned signals. The main implications of our findings are that firms should refrain from increasing reference explicitness and should select only the most material topics. Taken together, our results provide new insights on the unethical practice of false signaling and provide an example of an incorrect signal interpretation by readers.


Carolin Baier is a research associate and doctoral student at the Chair of Auditing and Management Accounting at the Ingolstadt School of Management at Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. Her research fields include ethical sustainability reporting and assurance practices, value chain responsibility and supply chain due diligence. The three papers of her cumulative dissertation concentrate on specific facets of responsible business conduct (RBC) and aim to find new insights and solutions for different challenges in the implementation of RBC.

Carolin holds a master's degree in International Business Studies from the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, with a semester exchange at the Universidad de Chile. Before Carolin worked in the telecommunication industry in the area of trade compliance.

Carolin Baier

Carolin Baier