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Ideas in conflict: a case study on tensions in the process of preparing sustainability reports

Magnus Frostenson (School of Business, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden)
Sven Helin (School of Business, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to understand conflicts in sustainability reporting (SR) preparation.


In the preparation of SRs, the logic of financial rationality is often assumed to take precedence over the logic of sustainability. Based on an explorative qualitative case study of a large Swedish retailer, the paper problematizes this view. Over a reporting cycle, employees and consultants involved in the preparation process are interviewed. Conflicting ideas about SRs are identified and analyzed through the lens of institutional logics.


The study identifies five tensions in SR preparation. These tensions relate to conflicting ideas of what an SR is, how it should be written and how it should be used. Among findings, a conflict of logics can be found as the basis of at least one tension. However, tensions may also emerge within a shared sustainability logic.

Research limitations/implications

A contribution of the study is that it sets its finger on the actual fieldwork with SRs. The study shows that it is unreasonable to claim that SRs are “self-evidently” captured by management according to financial rationality. Possibly, the nature of the studied firm, a company within the pharmaceutical and health sector, implies a stronger sustainability logic than in other firms.

Practical implications

According to the study, the results of an SR preparation process are highly dependent on the sometimes conflicting ideas of preparers and others within the company. It is of high importance to identify and clarify such conflicting ideas already in the beginning of the process, to link the SR to the corporate social responsibility strategy of the firm, and to involve top management in the process.


The study identifies underlying tensions in SR preparation. It also introduces a theoretical framework that makes it possible to analyze tensions in the preparation process.



The authors acknowledge, with gratitude, research funding from The Swedish Retail and Wholesale Council and fruitful advice and suggestions from three anonymous reviewers and from colleagues at the Örebro University School of Business and Luleå University of Technology.


Frostenson, M. and Helin, S. (2017), "Ideas in conflict: a case study on tensions in the process of preparing sustainability reports", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 166-190.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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