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Words not actions! The ideological role of sustainable development reporting

Author

Listed:
  • Markus J. Milne
  • Helen Tregidga
  • Sara Walton

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Markus J. Milne & Helen Tregidga & Sara Walton, 2009. "Words not actions! The ideological role of sustainable development reporting," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 22(8), pages 1211-1257, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:eme:aaajpp:v:22:y:2009:i:8:p:1211-1257
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    References listed on IDEAS

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