Semiotic report on the agl sustainability

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This semiotic analysis and resulting report was undertaken in order to conduct a Semiotic Analysis of the AGL Sustainability Report (AGL Energy Ltd 2009), this report is voluntary issued by AGL Sustainability reporting involves companies and organisations demonstrating their corporate responsibility through measuring and publicly reporting on their economic, social and environmental performance and impacts. These reports are delivered various ways to inform non-shareholder stakeholders of impacts of the company's performance and strategies to improve impacts, to inform shareholders and the market how well the company is dealing with non-financial and financial risks, and to enable companies to identify areas of key risks and analyse performance.(AGL Engergy Ltd 2009a, p.about this report; The Commonwealth of Australia 2008)

In this semiotic analysis the report was destructed by image, icon, word, logo, graphics, and object into its smallest components. These comprised of the fonts, colours, words and the choice of media,These components were then assessed for meaning and associations. What did they resemble, and what images, emotions, attitudes and references did they evoke? Looking also if there were any historical and emotional references. Then reconstructed, with attention paid to any secondary connotations that may form in the combination of semiotic elements and final analyses of any overall connotations that defy deconstruction.(Leech 2001, p.24) from the view of applying the theories of Saussure and Peirce forms of analysis.

Theoretical Concepts

Definition Of Semiotics

Semiotics represents a range of studies independent of any academic discipline. Even the most basic definition, there is considerable variation amongst leading practioners as to what semiotics involves. It is not only concerned with the intentional but also with our application of significance to anything in the world stemming from two different traditions of thought stemming from Saussure and Peirce. (Chandler n.d.; Chandler 2007)

A broad definition provided by Umberto states that 'semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign'(Eco 1976; Chandler 2007) Peirce defined what he termed "semiotic" as the " necessary, or formal doctrine of signs", "what must be the characters of all signs used by which an intelligence capable of learning pursued in terms of signs and sign processes” (Short 2007, p.5)

Saussure's Model

Saussure suggested a model based on two parts where he conceived that signs were made up of comprising a signifier and a signified. The signifier may consist of actual objects such as background or lines, whereas the signified is a concept in someone's mind. The distinction between signifier and signified can also be expressed in terms of form and content. Saussure suggests that a particular signified/signifier combination does not exist in isolation but needs to be combined with other signs to make possible a understanding of what is the signified and what is the signifier (Chandler 2007, p.18; Hynes & Janson 2007, p.2)

Peirce's Model

According to Peirce (1894), “nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign” by being related to familiar systems of conventions. Hence, a sign is part of an organized collective of interactions and cannot exist outside such a collective. Signs function as a code between individuals and they trigger or “unlock” previous experiences (Cobley, and Jansz, 2000 as cited in (Hynes & Janson 2007, p.2). In short, a human being functions as a meaning-maker who uses signs to receive, understand, and convey information. Interpretation and understanding of signs involves physical elements of objective existence stop sign) which leads to common understanding that are derived from socially accepted norms and rules. Hence, creates a system of connotations that individuals have learned to perceive as part of everyday reality and social norms. (Chandler 2007, p.18 &19; Hynes & Janson 2007, p.2)

Semiotic Analysis

Image Analysis

The images used invokes a modality of modernism, moving forward, action from the flowing geometric organic shaping of the outline of the frameset as the signifier. The larger area of the pattern also implies a sense of importance of the message that wishes to be conveyed by each link has relative to the other and to the overall pragmatically of the signifier. The position of text is also suggesting the relative Paradigmatic view of relative importance of each of these areas. That the titles of “Economic Performance” is placed in smaller font and positioned to a lower quadrant off centre. We also see this with the title of “Employees” off centre, suggesting a lower focus of attention. Whereas “Customers” About AGL”, Greenhouse are centrally more focussed. Suggesting that AGL is central linking figure in this relationship of the environment and to customers to enjoy sustainability. To express the signified message of the images.

The background picture deconstructed (a signifier) shows an open green field of grass and blue sky. Suggesting freshness, clean air and no pollution, freedom, and space. A child flying a kite in this field suggests innocence of childhood, uncluttered with concerns of adulthood, freedom to grow and space. That all is right with the world, that there will be a tomorrow in which to enjoy. The windmill in the background connects this sense of innocence and joy to the production of electricity. That also that of a link to childhood memories of pinwheels, an innocent toy. All suggesting that this company cares about tomorrow. Reconfirming feelings of security and trust that they are capable and trusted to keep it so.

(AGL Energy Ltd 2009)

Again, the pragmatics being used here is to create metaphors that draw a relationship to AGL and the environment and sustainability. Rreinforcing the strong reference to innocence of childhood long-term hope, sustainable futures and the natural organic forms. To order to frame statements of intent such as” AGL's goal is to provide leadership to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of energy across the supply chain throughout the economy.”(AGL Engergy Ltd 2009b) . The further uses of the icons (see figures 5-6)in the report add authority to these statements expressed by metaphor, showing independent conformation of these statements.

(AGL Energy Ltd 2009)

Referring to figures 7 - 10) we have a different messages being provided. As a these pages are directed to a different audience. Therefore, have to convey a different modality to the message. Figures 7 & 8 are invoking “old fashioned values” values to retail customers. Whereas figures 9 & 10 are directed to trigger responses with “corporate”, showing that, the company is an economonicaly responsible one. In each of these images there is an in inter connectedness .

These connections of the images Saussure argues that signs must have to make sense. And that they will only make sense in relation to each other. That is that the whole system of signs. Therefore, that in this case Saussure's reference to “value” is in the sum of the signs together. This is expressed not through only each individual component of each signifier and what is being signified.(Chandler 2007, p.23)

In the images used in the AGL Sustainability Report, 2009 (AGL Energy Ltd 2009) we see this very in terms that we are being asked to understand is that AGL is an Company that expresses a desire to show, and practices that they are a environmentally friendly . They care about the future today. That there is room to be a utility company that is socially responsible, Customers and People are the focus of their business and is economically stronger for being so.

Text Analysis

What is text analysis? In his book Textual Anaylsis - A beginners Guide, 2003 Mckee suggests the following as a definition :-

“We interpret texts in order to try and obtain a sense of the ways in which, people make sense of the world around them. And, importantly, by seeing the ways in which it is possible to interpret reality, we also understand our own limitations and advantages of our own sense-making”(Mckee 2003, p.1)

Throughout the website a number things become clear regards the Semiotics of the language. The text is littered with Semiotic codes. These is codes that are the Social Codes such behavioural codes .Textual Codes [Representational codes] such as scientific data that include genre, rhetorical and stylistic codes: exposition and agreement and Interpretative codes

The cleverness of the text in this website is that provides a combination of the codes at the right level for any possible reader. It uses simple universal language building to a more complex set of codes towards the end of each page. At the beginning of each page, the language is simple; the text is bold and combined with the images delivers the message that AGL is sustainable. Using metaphors such as “Green”. The use of “green” is a metonymy trope, not referring the colour but that of being environmentally friendly. It also looks to disband myths and create new ones with such statements as “greenhouse performance”, “greenhouse gas impact” (AGL Energy Ltd 2009), these being tropes of irony. In addition, use of Allegory is a figurative mode of representation conveying a meaning other than the literal. The can be represented by such statements as “AGL reviewed and revised our long-standing AGL Environmental Principles. The new AGL Environmental Principles are based on the precautionary principle” (AGL Engergy Ltd 2009a)

Plain English Analysis

Plain English is used to describe the functionality of communication styles that emphasise clarity, brevity and the avoidance of technical language. When considering the AGL Sustainability Report, 2009(AGL Energy Ltd 2009) we looked the use of plain English and found that it was a very good example of it is use. Some technical language was used but it was keep to a very min. In its usage. In addition, when used it was explained clearly diagrammatically with a more than adequate glossary of terms. Further analysis was conducted using a plain English analysis program that again confirmed the initial analysis. (Refer to figure 11)


This report showed that with the right combination of Semiotic understanding that a good document can be produced. Thus providing a well rounded view point and create understnding. This understanding supported with the right graphical information conveys not only the written message but also an impression


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David Stephens (7063571)