To read this content please select one of the options below:

Sustainability data distortions: the use of visual impression management techniques in corporate sustainability reporting

Denis Šimunović (Department of Business, Law, Economics and Consumer Behaviour, Università IULM, Milan, Italy)
Grazia Murtarelli (Department of Business, Law, Economics and Consumer Behaviour, Università IULM, Milan, Italy)
Stefania Romenti (Department of Business, Law, Economics and Consumer Behaviour, Università IULM, Milan, Italy)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 8 January 2024

Issue publication date: 18 March 2024

155

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the utilization of visual impression management techniques within sustainability reporting. Specifically, the study aims to determine whether Italian companies employ impression management tactics in the presentation of graphs within their sustainability reports and, thus, problematize visual data communication in corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Design/methodology/approach

The research adopts a multimodal content analysis of the 58 sustainability reports from Italian listed companies that are GRI-compliant. The analysis focused on three types of graphs: pie charts, line graphs and bar graphs. In total, 860 graphs have been examined.

Findings

The study found evidence of graphical distortion techniques being employed by companies in their sustainability reports to create a favorable impression. Specifically, graph distortions are found in column graphs and not in line or pie charts. In particular, selectivity, presentation enhancement and measurement distortion techniques seem to be extensively used when adopting column graphs in sustainability communication. Moreover, social sustainability–related topics tend to be more represented of other area of CSR reporting. This suggests that companies, whether consciously or unconsciously, engage in impression management techniques when using graphs in their sustainability reports.

Social implications

The study findings suggest that more consciousness is needed for companies when engaging in the construction and selection of graphs in their sustainability reports and that decision-makers should develop a clear guide for ethical visual communication.

Originality/value

The paper systematically analyzes visual impression management techniques in communicating sustainability data and, in particular, advances literature on graphical distortion. The value lies in empirical evidence of distortion adoption in GRI-compliant reports as well as problematizing visual data communication as a fundamental challenge for sustainability communication management.

Keywords

Citation

Šimunović, D., Murtarelli, G. and Romenti, S. (2024), "Sustainability data distortions: the use of visual impression management techniques in corporate sustainability reporting", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 28 No. 1, pp. 93-109. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-12-2022-0134

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles