Green technology innovation is not only an important driving force for firms to improve their competitive advantages, but also an important path for China to achieve the goals of “carbon neutralization” and “carbon peak” in the new era. Using the data of Chinese A-share listed firms from 2003 to 2020, this paper studies the impact of directors with overseas background on firm green technology innovation from the perspective of corporate reputation. The study finds that directors with overseas background can promote firm green technology innovation, and its promoting effect on the quality of green technology innovation is stronger than that on the quantity of green technology innovation. This promoting effect stems from the attention of directors with overseas background to corporate reputation. Meanwhile, this paper also compares green technology innovation with general technology innovation. General technology innovation can bring direct economic profits to firms, while green technology innovation is a signal to the outside world that firms pay attention to environmental protection, which plays a role in improving corporate reputation and is conducive to the sustainable development of firms. This paper finds that directors with overseas background can improve the proportion of green technology innovation in the overall innovation output of firms, which provides empirical evidence that directors with overseas background affect green technology innovation based on the mechanism of corporate reputation. Further research shows that the promotion effect of directors with overseas background on firm green technology innovation will produce positive externalities, which will be conducive to the development of regional economy. This conclusion proves the importance of directors with overseas background for firm green technology innovation, and also proves the correctness of the national strategy of “strengthening the dominant position of firms in the green technology innovation system”, which provides a reference for China’s future regional economic development.
This paper contributes to the literature in two ways: (1) The current green innovation development in China is excessively dependent on government law enforcement, resulting in excessive financial burden. However, this paper finds that directors with overseas background have a significant impact on firm green technology innovation, which proves the feasibility of using the internal governance structure to mobilize green innovation, emphasizes the important role of “returned talents” in firm green technology innovation, and provides a theoretical reference for China’s financial burden reduction under the background of “carbon neutralization” and “carbon peak”. (2) This paper highlights the difference between green technology innovation and general technology innovation. That is, firms can release the signal of their concern about environmental protection to the public through green technology innovation activities, which is helpful to build up corporate reputation. Directors with overseas background will increase the proportion of green technology innovation in the overall innovation output of firms out of concern for corporate reputation. The results link green technology innovation with corporate reputation management for the first time, enriching the academic research on corporate reputation.