The discourse of sustainable development reflects the particular interests and ‘stakes in the ground’ of groups, including corporates, who contest the definition of the concept. Perspectives from critical theory, supplemented by Foucauldian concepts, expose the role of power and hegemony in that contestation. Applied to understandings of sustainable development held by corporate managers, they reveal conceptions largely based in eco-modernism and ‘political sustainability’. The preliminary outcomes of research in progress that is taking a dialectical approach to the examination of the discourse of sustainable development in New Zealand companies are discussed. A case is made for maintaining greater discursivity in corporations and the broader setting, since, in a Foucauldian sense, it is the discourse that is producing sustainable development. It is argued that the predominating ‘green business’ discourse engages only superficially with sustainable development, and that what is now needed is a discourse of business and sustainable development framed in critical theory. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. and ERP Environment