Green legitimation: the construction of an environmental ethos

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to investigate the use of manipulation as a legitimation strategy. Focusing on the role of verbal communication, are integrated insights from rhetorical theory with strategic and institutional approaches to legitimacy in a study of three documents published by the "most admired" companies in the USA in 2007; General Electric (GE), Toyota, and Starbucks. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The research is based on a qualitative analysis of three documents that describe the environmental focus and policies of GE, Toyota, and Starbucks. The approach involves analyzing and synthesizing a large number of environmental claims made by these companies. Findings ‐ The analysis of the texts reveals a constructed organizational ethos that is combined with strong environmental focus to appear trustworthy in environmental matters in the eyes of consumers and stakeholders. Relying on four categories of environmental statements, the companies practice a form of "green" legitimation. Research limitations/implications ‐ The research is limited by the small number of publications used as data sources, which makes generalizations problematic. It does not investigate the effects of the verbal claims. Originality/value ‐ The paper adds to the literature on organizational legitimation, providing valuable insights into manipulative legitimation. It demonstrates the need to combine insights from strategic and institutional approaches to legitimacy.

Keywords: Corporate social responsibility; Rhetoric; United States of America

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: May 20, 2009

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