CEOs’ talk of sustainability: Towards an inclusion of an embeddedness andvalue-creation perspective

Research output: Working paper


Purpose: This paper sets out to examine how CEOs’ talk of sustainability has developed in a period of increased expectations from society for companies to step up their transformation towards more sustainable businesses andbetter account for their progress and performance within the sustainability area.

Design/methodology/approach: By adopting an interpretive textual approach, this paper provides a careful analysis of how CEO talk of sustainability has developed in the largest listed Swedish companies during the period 2008-2017. The analysis focuses on the CEO letter.

Findings: TheCEOs’ talk of sustainability is becoming much more elaborated, proactive and also adopts a multi-dimensional approach towards sustainability. The CEOs frame their talk by adopting different perspectives over the period; the sticky environmental-, the performance and meso-, the product-market oriented-and the embeddedness and value-creation perspective.The most intriguing finding is that of a radical change in the CEOs’ talk of sustainability in the latest lettersindicating that the alleged capitalistic and short-sighted focus on value maximization and profitability might be changing for embedding more of sustainability dimensions.

Practical implications: The findings provide relevant inputs to the debate on how CEOs provide accountability to their stakeholders by framing their talk of sustainability from different perspectives.

Originality/value:This comprehensive analysis of how CEOs in the largest listed companies through their talk of sustainability provide accountability to their stakeholders, offers a unique frame of reference for further interpretational work on how CEOs frame, engage in andshape the sustainability discourse.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economics and Business


  • CEO talk, Sustainability, CEO letters, Accountability, Organisational (managerial) attention, Corporate response, Q01, M14, M41
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages36
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Dec
Publication categoryResearch

Publication series

NameLSR Working Papers Series
PublisherLUSEM Sustainability Research Network