Reflections on sustainability’s meaning in organizations

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Beatriz Lima Zanoni
Samir Adamoglu de Oliveira


We undertake an institutionalist reflection on the construction of the meaning(s) of sustainability as a legitimizing factor for organizations, arguing that the polysemic construction of the concept is linguistically operated intending legitimation in heterogeneous organizational fields. We apply the semiotic model of the institutionalization process to the sustainability concept, highlighting its linguistic-social construction in two ways – denotational and connotational –, discussing the departure from the objective nature of the concept to its mythicalrational
nature in which the decoupling of doing, saying and meaning, transmute its semantic content. Sustainability is, then, understood as another institutional pressure to which organizations need to respond, and they usually do so strategically, through acceptance, adaptation or contestation. Thus, even if certain actors aim to denotationally institutionalize sustainability, its meaning fluctuates connotationally as it is widespread, due to convenience or lack of clarity on how to operationalize it in organizations.


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How to Cite
ZANONI, B. L.; DE OLIVEIRA, S. A. Reflections on sustainability’s meaning in organizations . RAE - Revista de Administracao de Empresas , [S. l.], v. 63, n. 2, p. e2022–0028, 2023. DOI: 10.1590/S0034-759020230203. Disponível em: Acesso em: 24 may. 2024.


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