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Corporate conceptions of triple bottom line reporting: an empirical analysis into the signs and symbols driving this fashionable framework

Kaushik Sridhar (Sustainability Associate at Net Balance Management Group, Sydney, Australia)

Social Responsibility Journal

ISSN: 1747-1117

Article publication date: 27 July 2012




The purpose of this paper is to provide a critical analysis that examines the semiotics of triple bottom line (TBL) and how it has been developed since its inception in the early 1990s.


This study was conducted over a period of nine months, during which semi‐structured interviews were conducted with 40 organizations around the world that were considered to be organizations having best practices in non‐financial reporting. The key interviewees were managers and heads of the sustainability departments within the organization.


This study has attempted using semiotics and coding to show parallel themes within how organizations perceive TBL. The codes of language, compliance, integration and limitations provide symbolic attempts by which sustainability managers create and communicate the perception of “corporate sustainability” through TBL reporting in order to satisfy external pressures and stakeholders. A semiotic analysis of TBL has shown that these four codes or concepts do in fact have a common interpretive scheme.

Research limitations/implications

The non‐financial reporting process or TBL reporting process tend to be conducted and developed by a sustainability team within an organization, rather than just by an individual. The interviews conducted in this research paper are with the head of the sustainability departments at each organization and hence this is a potential limitation in terms of understanding the semiotic powers of TBL.


While the codes explained in this paper do not show the entire culture and views on non‐financial reporting, they do capture a major aspect of it through the eyes of TBL and provide examples of how semiotics can be used to study and map the systems of meaning employed by members of a certain occupational setting. Having a semiotic view provides many conclusions about the study of an organizational culture or framework.



Sridhar, K. (2012), "Corporate conceptions of triple bottom line reporting: an empirical analysis into the signs and symbols driving this fashionable framework", Social Responsibility Journal, Vol. 8 No. 3, pp. 312-326.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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