Companies exhibit growing interest in sustainability rhetoric. Such an interest is alternatively justified by a company’s need to address legitimacy instances, rather than to satisfy stakeholders’ requests about its sustainability performance. Whatever the case, a main debated issue concerning sustainability rhetoric deals with the difficulties in understanding whether companies’ commitment towards sustainability is "real", or it only consists of "empty words" that hide opportunistic strategies. Our paper contributes to this debate, proposing a methodological approach, which is based on a company’s business model (BM) representation. We argue that the inclusion of adequate sustainability information in a company’s BM representation can testify to a real company’s engagement, as it illustrates how sustainability affects its value creation process. Compared to extant methodological proposals, mainly based on linguistic analyses, our approach does not require specific competences to be applied. Moreover, it saves user’s time, as it allows the assessment of entire company’s sustainability rhetoric through the analysis of the information reported in its BM.
Our approach is consistent with previous contributions that propose a company’s BM as a representation device able to illustrate strategic information that cannot be represented in the traditional corporate reporting. Our approach proposes a possible answer to address the challenges faced by regulators and standard setters involved in the regulation of sustainability disclosure. Such approach has found a first step of implementation in the UK, where since 2013, listed companies are requested to describe their BM in Strategic Reports.
Keywords: Sustainability rhetoric, business model, corporate social responsibility, non-financial disclosure, mining industry.