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Western environmental discourse in the corporate report

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Morrison, LJ ORCID: 0000-0001-7115-5817 2017 , 'Western environmental discourse in the corporate report', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

Cultural discourse about the environment informs how cultures interact and consider the natural world. Cultural discourse can be interpreted in terms of its underpinning philosophies. These discourses also inform such documents as the corporate environmental report. As such, corporate environmental reporting sits at the junction between western environmental philosophy, cultural discourse and the environmental impact of corporations. By articulating the relationship between the corporation and the natural world, corporate environmental reporting implicitly draws from western attitudes towards nature in its discourse. In order to explore these underpinning values, this thesis examines the corporate relationship with nature through the lens of western environmental philosophy.
A historical review of western environmental philosophy demonstrates how three primary themes have informed the western relationship with nature over time: dualism, transcendence and interconnectivity. These themes have played important roles in guiding cultural understandings of nature, and consequently, they are also evident in articulations of the corporate relationship with the natural world.
Because this thesis aims to examine the corporate relationship with the natural world, a methodology which is able to dissect the underpinning philosophies was required. As such, a critical discourse analysis is adopted, which closely examines the environmental reports of a purposive sample of reporting companies. This analysis is supported by a parallel critical discourse analysis of semi-structured interviews with the senior environmental management of each of these companies.
The application of these methods found that the dominant environmental philosophy utilised in the corporate environmental reports analysed was dualism, followed by interconnectivity, with only a fraction of the reports drawing from a transcendent approach. Since transcendence is a dominant theme in contemporary western cultural discourse, it’s absence points towards the calculative use of dualism in an attempt to obfuscate and control the perception of environmental damage caused by the company, in part through creating an illusion of distance between the company and nature. If corporations have only a tenuous link to the natural world, their care of it is arbitrary.
This makes corporate environmental care appear to be a superfluous activity, rather than integral to the health of the world which we – and other members of our biotic community – are utterly reliant on.
The major findings of this thesis reveal how corporations communicate about and relate to the natural environment. While organisations may be reporting on the topics required, how they are communicating is problematic, in that it masks an antagonism towards the natural world by perpetuating the idea that its care is arbitrary.
Discourse plays an important role in constructing, maintaining or eroding normative ethical restraints which are shared within a culture. This means that if a cultural discourse were to place a high value on the natural world, those within that culture would implicitly consider it ethically wrong to harm it – ethical restraints would be strong. The findings of this thesis are important since they demonstrate that corporate communications erode normative restraints against environmental harm. This erosion is twofold, since it not only reduces the perception of the company’s own responsibility, but also contributes to the erosion of broader cultural restraints against the harmful treatment of nature. The corporate environmental reports analysed in this thesis perpetuate the message that humans (and corporations) are separate and distinct from nature, and as such there is little reason to restrict its harm. Since the current science points towards the need for radical changes in human (and corporate) behaviour, particularly in the West, then these reports are masking a harmful underlying antagonism towards the natural world which contributes to its injury.
By exploring the discourse of corporate environmental reporting, this thesis builds from and contributes to the extant accounting and environmental philosophy literature, as well as more broadly contributing to the understanding of environmental philosophy’s impact on the western view of nature.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Morrison, LJ
Keywords: Environmental, philosophy, discourse, dualism, interconnectivity, transcendence, critical
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Copyright 2017 the author

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