Meaning making by managers: corporate discourse on environment and sustainability in India

Prithi Nambiar*, Naren Chitty

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


The globally generated concepts of environment and sustainability are fast gaining currency in international business discourse. Sustainability concerns are concurrently becoming significant to business planning around corporate social responsibility and integral to organizational strategies toward enhancing shareholder value. The mindset of corporate managers is a key factor in determining company approaches to sustainability. But what do corporate managers understand by sustainability? Our study explores discursive meaning negotiation surrounding the concepts of environment and sustainability within business discourse. The study is based on qualitative interpretive research drawing from symbolic interactionism (Blumer, Symbolic interactionism: perspective and method. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1969) which postulates that meaning in discourse is an essentially contested domain dependent upon negotiation in the Habermasian tradition of mutually respectful dialogue (Habermas, The theory of communicative action: lifeworld and system: a critique of functionalist reason. Beacon Press, Boston 1987). Data from semi-structured intensive interviews of a small sample of senior corporate managers was analyzed to examine how corporate elites in India frame their approach to sustainability issues and respond to external pressures for deeper corporate responsibility. The findings point to the existence of a distinctively local narrative with strong potential for the discursive negotiation of personal and collective understanding of ethical and socio-cultural values that may help internalize broader sustainability considerations into corporate decision-making processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-511
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014


  • business ethics
  • corporate social responsibility
  • discourse
  • environment
  • sustainability
  • sustainable development


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