Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 160, Issue 2, pp 563–586 | Cite as

Understanding Communication of Sustainability Reporting: Application of Symbolic Convergence Theory (SCT)

  • Mohammed HossainEmail author
  • Md. Tarikul Islam
  • Mahmood Ahmed Momin
  • Shamsun Nahar
  • Md. Samsul Alam
Original Paper


The purpose of this paper is to investigate the nature of rhetoric and rhetorical strategies that are implicit in the standalone sustainability reporting of the top 24 companies of the Fortune 500 Global. We adopt Bormann’s (Q J Speech 58(4):396–407, 1972) SCT framework to study the rhetorical situation and how corporate sustainability reporting (CSR) messages can be communicated to the audience (public). The SCT concepts in the sustainability reporting’s communication are subject to different types of legitimacy strategies that are used by corporations as a validity and legitimacy claim in the reports. A content analysis has been conducted and structural coding schemes have been developed based on the literature. The schemes are applied to the SCT model which recognizes the symbolic convergent processes of fantasy among communicators in a Society. The study reveals that most of the sample companies communicate fantasy type and rhetorical vision in their corporate sustainability reporting. However, the disclosure or messages are different across locations and other taxonomies of the SCT framework. This study contributes to the current CSR literature about how symbolic or fantasy understandings can be interpreted by the users. It also discusses the persuasion styles that are adopted by the companies for communication purposes. This study is the theoretical extension of the SCT. Researchers may be interested in further investigating other online communication paths, such as human rights reports and director’s reports.


Corporate social responsibility Sustainability reporting Symbolic convergence theory Rhetoric 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mohammed Hossain
    • 1
    Email author
  • Md. Tarikul Islam
    • 3
  • Mahmood Ahmed Momin
    • 2
  • Shamsun Nahar
    • 1
  • Md. Samsul Alam
    • 1
  1. 1.Griffith Business SchoolNathanAustralia
  2. 2.Department of AccountingAuckland University of TechnologyAuckland CentralNew Zealand
  3. 3.Faculty of BusinessSohar UniversitySoharSultanate of Oman

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