Thesis Receives Award: The Strategies of Banks – Communicating Sustainability

This year, Dalarna University’s Award for Best Thesis: Theme – Sustainable Development goes to Ilenia Tonetti, a student in the university’s Master’s Programme in English – Linguistics.
Headshot of woman, Ilenia Tonetti
The receipient of this year's award, Ilenia Tonetti

For her thesis entitled “Linguistic Trust-Building Strategies in Swiss Banks’ Public Discourse: A Diachronic Study of Annual Reports and Corporate Responsibility Reports from UBS and Credit Suisse”, Ilenia examined the strategies employed by banks to build trust in investors and other stakeholders by conducting a discourse analysis of the annual reports and corporate responsibility reports of two Swiss banks from the years 2007, 2012 and 2017.

Ilenia attempted to identify changes in the strategies used by banks to build confidence in clients since the financial crisis of 2008. The results indicate that banks put a great deal of effort into demonstrating their reliability and competence when it comes to managing risk. She noted that the frequency in the use of the term “sustainability” (*sustainab*) and similar words increased over time. One interpretation of this is that banks had recognised a greater need to create an image of themselves as being sustainable enterprises.

Being able to better understand the communication of businesses has great purpose. Currently, many companies have adjusted their work with sustainability so that it accords with the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. However, a review of the world’s 100 largest companies and interviews with their management demonstrate that few companies have in fact implemented any changes within their organisations that would see them contribute to these global goals. What companies thus far have done is, with few exceptions, to make changes in their communication by applying the “SDG stamp” to current work practices and initiatives.

The selected jury for this year’s winning entry comprised three members from Dalarna University’s Council for Sustainable Development. They wrote:

Ilenia Tonetti’s Master’s thesis builds on knowledge and understanding about how companies can change their communication strategies in sequence with the changing expectations of society. At a time such as ours, when the use of the term ”sustainable” has increased dramatically, such knowledge and understanding are essential. The discourse analysis of the two banks’ annual and corporate responsibility reports demonstrates how banks have put a great deal of work into appearing reliable and sustainable. With great care and diligence, Ilenia analysed the large amount of text material and made use of both quantitative and qualitative methodology. 

Although Ilenia’s thesis does not say anything about the actual actions of banks, her analysis brings to mind the following: a term such as “sustainability” can be used by companies in such a way as to have us perceive them to be sustainable even when in actual fact there are no changes in either their business concept or their organisation. This is important to know for anyone who is not content with simply hearing about companies talk about their sustainability efforts but who also want to see results.

This will be the second year that a student has been presented with this award, which includes a travel grant of 10 000 kr.

Ilenia's work will be presented and the award handed out on December 3, in conjunction with Dalarna University’s Sustainability Day.

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