Mapping Sustainability in the Luxury Sector: A Social Semiotic Analysis of Environmental, Social and Governance Multimodal Discourse

Project: Research

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For decades, institutions, businesses, and individuals have engaged in discourse regarding their commitment to building a better world. In 2021, however, we are still a long way from achieving sustainable development. While institutions have struggled to agree on common standards and regulations, businesses have shifted their corporate discourse to focus on environmental, social, and governance themes (ESG), which reflect their efforts to preserve the planet (E), generate positive societal impact (S), and operate in compliance with economic policies (G). This shift has resulted from corporate peer pressure, increased activism and consumer engagement on social media, and growing risks for reputational damage and financial impacts on corporations. Among business sectors, the luxury sector, which has historically been associated with qualities that do not naturally align with sustainability such as overconsumption and social stratification, has worked to integrate ESG factors into corporate discourse. Although law and business scholars have pioneered studies on ESG, impact investments, and consumer sentiment towards sustainability, such research fails to satisfactorily engage with sustainability discourse. Moreover, while applied linguists account for discourse, their studies have failed to account for the shift from corporate social responsibility to ESG and have tended to focus only on the linguistic aspects of communication. However, due to advances in digital media and the increasing usage of social media, other modes of communication (such as images) have become more prominent. Therefore, a ‘multimodal’ analysis of the ways in which corporate ESG discourse is constructed is needed to properly understand the evolution of this space. Drawing upon the PI’s previous research and relevant industry experience, this proposed project investigates the corporate discourse of the world’s two largest multi-category luxury conglomerates, Kering and LVMH. The project adopts a social semiotic approach to conduct a corpus-assisted multimodal discourse analysis of multiple forms of communication: 200 webpages, 400 press releases, 20 videos, 60 reports, and 1,600 Instagram posts. The goals of the proposed project are to determine the following: how Kering and LVMH have integrated sustainability and ESG factors in both discursive and practical terms over time; what the integration of sustainability and ESG discourse entails for the luxury sector and how this discourse has transformed the concept of both luxury and sustainability in this context; how discourse about ESG issues is interdiscursively distributed across different forms of communication; and how meaning in this context is created through the codeployment of different semiotic resources across forms of communication.


Project number9048260
Grant typeECS
StatusNot started
Effective start/end date1/01/23 → …