Year

2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Accounting, Economics and Finance

Abstract

This research attempts to explain and evaluate corporate sustainability reporting practices from an ecosystems perspective, through the application of metaphors. It argues that commonly held ideas of sustainable development, which many firms embrace to produce sustainability reports, narrowly focus on the sustainability performances of individual firms and fail to comprehend a broader systems view, that incorporates a holistic understanding of sustainability embracing ecological perspectives. The study draws on the work of Chinese intellectual Jiang Rong, author of a best-selling semi-autobiographical novel Wolf Totem, which documents the life experiences of a Beijing student sent to the Inner Mongolian countryside during China’s Cultural Revolution. Reflecting on his experiences, the author describes the powerful interrelationships between human beings, animals, nature and culture that work in harmony to sustain nomadic life. The novel is used in this research as a contextual landscape to construct a series of multi-tiered metaphors to make sense of corporate sustainability reporting through metaphorical interpretations. By narrating the Chinese banking sector as the “ecosystem”, various actors within the sector are examined to establish their roles and functions in the ecosystem. This is made possible by conducting a summative content analysis on sustainability reports issued by Chinese banks for the period 2008 to 2012 and a metaphorical narrative representation of the findings. This research aims to become one of the first studies of its kind to use a cross-disciplinary framework and application of metaphors to comprehend sustainability reporting practice with a focus on the context of a financial service sector in a strong, emerging economy.

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