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No more fairytales: a quest for alternative narratives of sustainable business

Aideen O’Dochartaigh (College of Business, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 8 August 2019

Issue publication date: 8 August 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore storytelling in sustainability reporting. The author posits that large PLCs use their sustainability reports to support the construction of a fairytale of “sustainable business”, and asks if organisations with an alternative purpose (social enterprises, values-based SMEs) and/or ownership structure (co-operatives, partnerships) can offer a counter-narrative of the sustainability–business relationship.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper uses the literature on storytelling and organisational mythmaking to gain insight into the construction of narratives and their impact on the reader. A narrative analysis is conducted of the sustainability reports of 40 organisations across a range of entity classes, including large PLCs, values-based SMEs, co-owned businesses and social enterprises.

Findings

The analysis indicates that the narratives presented in sustainability reporting are of much the same form across entity classes. The author argues on this basis that sustainability reports represent stories targeted at specific stakeholders rather than accounts of the organisation’s relationship with ecological and societal sustainability, and urges scholars to challenge organisations across entity classes to engage with sustainability at a planetary level.

Originality/value

The paper seeks to contribute to the literature in two ways. First, the author illustrates how the literature on storytelling can be used to analyse organisational narratives of sustainability, and how narrative forms and genres can be mobilised to support potential counter-narratives. Second, the author explores and ultimately challenges the proposition that organisations less often examined in the literature, such as social enterprises and co-operatives, can offer alternative narratives of the sustainability–business relationship.

Keywords

Citation

O’Dochartaigh, A. (2019), "No more fairytales: a quest for alternative narratives of sustainable business", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 32 No. 5, pp. 1384-1413. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-11-2016-2796

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited