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The purpose of this research is to investigate the use of visuals in communicating symbolic sustainability information by the New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX) listed companies through their standalone sustainability reports.Design/methodology/approachUsing the impression management theoretical framework and Barthes' conceptions of denotation and connotation, the study seeks to examine the way visuals, such as photos, tables and figures, are used to convey symbolic sustainability messages and information. The content analysis method was used to analyse 1,064 visuals from 20 New Zealand Stock Exchange listed companies' standalone sustainability reports for 2017.FindingsThe authors observe variations in the use of visuals to convey messages about sustainability and the appeal of these visuals to readers in the process of creating a symbolic sustainability message. While photos focus on emotions as their main method of impression management, tables and figures focus on the logical link between readers and a positive sustainability message.Research limitations/implicationsThe study adds to the impression management theory work that companies use a combination of photos, tables and figures in communicating symbolic positive sustainability messages. The insights inform the corporate culture of the use of visuals and the effect of future reporting practices regarding sustainability information in New Zealand and globally.Originality/valueUnlike other studies on sustainability reporting, we contend that a company uses a combination of visuals to create impressions that include not only positive but also negative and neutral sustainability messages.
Asian Review of Accounting – Emerald Publishing
Published: Mar 20, 2023
Keywords: Visual corporate social responsibility; Communication; Sustainability; Impression management; Content analysis
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