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Words not actions! The ideological role of sustainable development reporting

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  • Markus J. Milne
  • Helen Tregidga
  • Sara Walton
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    Abstract

    Purpose – Through an analysis of corporate sustainable development reporting, this paper seeks to examine critically language use and other visual (re)presentations of sustainable development within the business context. It aims to provide a framework to interpret and tease out business representations of sustainable development. Such representations are argued to be constitutive of the way that business has come to “know” and “do” sustainable development and, therefore, to constrain and enable particular actions and developments. Design/methodology/approach – The study uses a mix of synthesis, interpretive and discourse analysis to locate, interpret and critically analyse a corpus of written and presentational texts produced by a New Zealand business association and eight of its founding members' early triple bottom line reports. Findings – The business association and its members' reports are shown to present a pragmatic and middle-way discourse on business and the environment. Through the use of rhetorical claims to pragmatism and action, this discourse suggests that businesses are “doing” sustainability. But critical analysis and interpretation within a wider framework reveal a narrow, largely economic and instrumental approach to the natural environment. Originality/value – This paper offers a diagrammatic synthesis of the contested “middle ground” of the sustainable development debate, and thereby provides a frame of reference for further interpretational work on organisations and sustainable development.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Emerald Group Publishing in its journal Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal.

    Volume (Year): 22 (2009)
    Issue (Month): 8 (November)
    Pages: 1211-1257

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    Handle: RePEc:eme:aaajpp:v:22:y:2009:i:8:p:1211-1257

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    Related research

    Keywords: Conversation; Corporate image; Financial reporting; New Zealand; Sustainable development;

    References

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    1. Wiseman, Joanne, 1982. "An evaluation of environmental disclosures made in corporate annual reports," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 7(1), pages 53-63, January.
    2. Norton, Bryan G., 1989. "Intergenerational equity and environmental decisions: A model using Rawls' veil of ignorance," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 137-159, May.
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    11. Preston, Alistair M. & Young, Joni J., 2000. "Constructing the global corporation and corporate constructions of the global: a picture essay," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 25(4-5), pages 427-449, May.
    12. Bill Hopwood & Mary Mellor & Geoff O'Brien, 2005. "Sustainable development: mapping different approaches," Sustainable Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 13(1), pages 38-52.
    13. Jan Bebbington & Carlos Larrinaga & Jose M. Moneva, 2008. "Corporate social reporting and reputation risk management," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 21(3), pages 337-361, April.
    14. Pushkala Prasad & Michael Elmes, 2005. "In the Name of the Practical: Unearthing the Hegemony of Pragmatics in the Discourse of Environmental Management," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 42(4), pages 845-867, 06.
    15. Carol A. Adams, 2008. "A commentary on: corporate social responsibility reporting and reputation risk management," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 21(3), pages 365-370, April.
    16. Tomkins, Cyril & Groves, Roger, 1983. ""The everyday accountant and researching his reality": Further thoughts," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 407-415, October.
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    Cited by:
    1. María Luisa Pajuelo Moreno, 2013. "Assessment of the Impact of Business Activity in Sustainability Terms. Empirical Confirmation of Its Determination in Spanish Companies," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 5(6), pages 2389-2420, May.
    2. Torbjörn Tagesson & Michelle Klugman & Maria Ekström, 2013. "What explains the extent and content of social disclosures in Swedish municipalities’ annual reports," Journal of Management and Governance, Springer, vol. 17(2), pages 217-235, May.
    3. Herzig, Christian & Moon, Jeremy, 2013. "Discourses on corporate social ir/responsibility in the financial sector," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 66(10), pages 1870-1880.

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