When Is There a Sustainability Case for Corporate Social Responsibility?

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Minna Halme of Aalto University School of Business, Jukka Rintamäki of City University of London, Jette Steen Knudsen of Tufts University, Leena Lankoski of Aalto University School of Business, and Mika Kuisma of Aalto University School of Business. They recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “When Is There a Sustainability Case for CSR? Pathways to Environmental and Social Performance Improvements,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Miklian reflects on the impact and innovations of this research:]

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What motivated you to pursue this research?

While this article focuses on sustainability performance, it is based on a joint research project of 12 universities which originally set out to study societal impacts of CSR. We were motivated by the fact that there is so little research on societal impacts CSR, and so much need for it among policy makers and non-governmental organizations.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

The difficulty of getting data on impacts of companies’ CSR activities took us by surprise. We had chosen a sample of companies that – based on publicly available ratings – were either leading or good CSR performers, but data on societal impacts of CSR was still scarce. And not only scarce: CSR practices, performance and impacts were often also confused with one another in the company reporting and in managers’ oral accounts. It took massive cross-checking of interview data, and public and internal document data to get the study done.

It also became strikingly evident that in the end of the day researchers as well as sustainability ratings are at the mercy of companies’ self-reported sustainability data. Databases and ratings such as the KDL, Asset4 or the like tend to be viewed as reliable data. Investors and management academics measuring corporate sustainability performance widely use these ratings as if they were drawn from “hard objective data”. In reality such data is self-reported by companies.

Aggravating the risk of mismeasurement is that these schemes are untransparent: users (researchers, investors) do not necessarily know what data exactly composes each indicator. This is paradoxical as for research purposes it is considered positive if “the performance data is from an external source” – a statement which effectively closes the door from discussion about validity problems of performance data used. Sustainability databases should make their performance measurement data more transparent so that users have a means to assess what has been measured as environmental and social performance.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

We separated CSR activities (antecedents of sustainability performance) from the performance itself, and did not rely on narrow data but instead constructed performance schemes for assessing both environmental and social performance. In addition to management researchers, our team had wide sustainability performance knowledge base from natural science to social sustainability studies. We used both externally available and internal document data, interviewed companies as well as met with their stakeholders to complement and verify the data. In other words, we went beyond analysts adhering to data sets like KDL, Asset4 or TRI.
Our configurational approach makes it possible to discover that different pathways are associated with environmental and social performance (non)improvements, and that pathways to success and failure are for the most part not symmetrical, which has not been shown before with any larger dataset.

We expect that our research will encourage more informative future research on the influence of CSR policies and practices onto sustainability performance. We hope it raises the bar for more comprehensive future measurement of sustainability performance of companies, making the research in the field more useful for policy makers who seek to steer corporate performance and for company managers, who struggle to understand what kind of CSR is beneficial for improvement of sustainability performance.

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Theorizing Business and Local Peacebuilding

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Jason Miklian of the University of Oslo, and Juan Pablo Medina Bickel of the Universidad de los Andes. They recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “Theorizing Business and Local Peacebuilding Through the “Footprints of Peace” Coffee Project in Rural Colombia,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Miklian reflects on the impact and innovations of this research:

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In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field

We see this article having three major impacts. First, the role of business in peacebuilding is an exciting but still emerging field, carrying many more questions than answers for scholars at present. These questions cut to the core of business roles in society, asking if, how and why firms can make a positive impact in some of the most fragile and conflict-affected parts of the world. Colombia is in many ways the ideal country to study such interactions, as it is perhaps the world’s most significant policy ‘laboratory’ for national and multinational private sector involvement in peace. Business scholars could use this case as a springboard to explore other such cases in Colombia, or similar cases in other countries, to help us collectively better refine the conditions for successful business engagement in peaceful development.

Second, we (the authors) tend to lean critical in our understandings of where and how the private sector can and should play a peacebuilding role, backed by a substantial amount of research by ourselves and others on how well-intended ventures can fail in practice. Despite our skepticism, we found that the Footprints of Peace (FOP) project made a measurable, positive, and significant positive impact on thousands of people in Colombia. Thus, a case like FOP can help show peacebuilding scholars (who also tend to lean critical) that businesses can indeed play positive peace roles in peacebuilding. The next wave of research on this topic will hopefully further refine the conditions for such to improve the likelihood for more business-peace success stories.

Third, this article uses a rigorous qualitative model as its foundation with quantitative analysis in a supporting fashion. We hope that this structure can help show the added value that qualitative and mixed-methods research can have in research on business and society, delivering deeper and richer findings than a quantitative model alone can express.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

(JM) I’m of course biased, but I truly feel that the role of business in peace and development is one of the most important and yet least researched fields of study today. Part of the reason for this, frankly, it’s that it’s hard work. As practitioner Mary Anderson is fond of saying, “Peace is not for amateurs.” Peacebuilding is a complex, messy, non-linear task filled with conceptual and practical potholes, and the same goes for research on peacebuilding. Adding in the private sector complicates matters even more, as it carries its own set of interests, aims and needs. Further, research in conflict environments carries its own set of ethical considerations and issues both for the subjects of study as well as for the researchers themselves – before, during and after such research is done.

Nevertheless, these interactions are a cornerstone of business involvement in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Institutions) in particular, representing some $2 trillion in business investment globally. Those wishing to look at these issues will be rewarded by being on the forefront of business and society topics today, and I deeply and warmly encourage business scholars in particular to do so. One way to help bridge the knowledge gap is through co-authorship. This article was much stronger as a joint effort than anything that either Juan Pablo or myself could have written alone. Beyond the natural advantages that co-authorship can provide in expanding ideas, rationales, and providing checks and balances, we brought complementary knowledge and expertise to the project, not only across disciplines but also across cultures. I see a great opportunity for deeper engagement between peace and business scholars in just these sorts of studies, helping bridge conceptual divides and not least help unite these two communities on a topic that both are increasingly drawn towards.

What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?

(JPMB) All the beautiful people that I got to meet. Their smiles, their interest to be heard and their willingness to share some of their deepest and most painful personal experiences. The charm with which I was embraced with at some farms, and of course the dozens of cups of coffee that people offered to me, including many made from home-cultivated coffee, picked, toasted and finally prepared with the same hands that I shook. In academia, large conflict databases can blur the meaning and stories behind the numbers, so fieldwork is an extremely important way to build knowledge and scholarship in a more personal and human way. Getting to know the meaning behind a single data point, and the person that is represented behind it and their life stories, can lead to research that better respects and honors those that we study. Moreover, I am a Colombian citizen who has lived most of his life in a violent country. Due to this, I’m aware of many social, political and economic struggles throughout my daily life, and my country requires a new generation of people aiming to change the current political climate.

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Understanding How Business Influences Public Policy

congress-column-1018004_1920[We’re pleased to welcome authors David Coen of University College London and Matia Vannoni of the Università Bocconi. They recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “The Strategic Management of Government Affairs in Brussels,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Vannoni reflects on the motivations and innovations of this research:

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What motivated you to pursue this research?

Business touches every aspect of regulation and as such, understanding how business influences public policy and how it organizes political affairs is important. While government affairs have been well studied in the US and concepts such as revolving doors are now the accepted norm, we decided to focus on government affairs in the EU and explore how a different political institutional structure and business culture may affect business political action and organization.

As such, we decided it was time someone started to unbox the company and look at what is going on inside. This project seeks to study the day to day functioning of government affairs inside firms, asking questions like: who works in government affairs in companies, where these managers come from (where they studied and where they worked previously), which role they have inside the firm and so on.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

Traditional approaches in management, political science and economics help us understand many aspects of corporate political activity, but not how government affairs are organized within the firm. This project studies how the political institutional environment affects the firms’ micro strategic decisions, such as the size, political functions and staffing of government affairs.

The project is innovative in both its data collection and empirical focus. First, the paper seeks to build an original data set on EU business political organization. Previous studies have tended to focus on single case studies and have been US focused. In this project, for the first time, we create a sample of more than 300 companies from different countries and industries and, by relying on different sources, we map their EU corporate political activities and the organization of their government affairs. We gathered data on how much companies spend in lobbying activities, whether they use external consultancies, how many individuals they employ in their government affairs office, who these individuals are, what their functions are and so on. As such, this is the first study of this kind.

It terms of findings, we show that in Brussels we see less “revolving doors” between business and EU institutions, rather the process is more a “sliding door” mechanism, where influence is a function of expertize, credibility and reputation. As such, the staff in government affairs is more likely to be technical experts, with long run careers in the industry rather than former politicians and civil servants.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

The advice we give to new scholars who wish to study corporate political activity is to always try to create bridges between disciplines, both theoretically and empirically. For instance, this project bridges the gap between the political science literature on lobbying and the management literature on capabilities. Yet, this is not enough. Future research in this field should continue this cross-fertilization, by, for instance, looking at how the public management literature might help explain the interaction between business and society. At the empirical level we would encourage the collection of large-N data, increased comparative research and potentially the introduction of experiments, which are currently in vogue in public management.

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Monument photo attributed to ssalae. (CC)

The Impact of Religion-Based Caste System on the Dynamics of Indian Trade Unions

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Jatin Pandey and Biju Varkkey of the Indian Institute of Management. They recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “Impact of Religion-Based Caste System on the Dynamics of Indian Trade Unions: Evidence From Two State-Owned Organizations in North India,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Pandey reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

BAS_v50_72ppiRGB_powerpointWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

Caste and trade unions are two important stratification schemas prevalent in India but their interaction has been under-researched. Ramaswamy’s study in South India, which was conducted in 1976, had dealt with the issue of caste and trade unions directly and was based on empirical data collected from the unions of textile workers in Coimbatore. After that, there has been passing references to caste as an important facet in unions or opinion pieces by authors based on their personal observations; but there had been a paucity of studies, which look at the interface of caste and unions based on systematic data collection and analysis.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings surprise revelations?

Gathering data on the sensitive topic of caste was the most challenging. The political undertones of the topic make people skeptical about discussing it freely. In our research, initially, the trade union members negated the influence of caste in modern times however as we continued with the interview they revealed that caste not only had an impact in the workspace but their social space as well.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

Caste is a very sensitive and politically active topic in India and while interviewing researcher must be aware of these controversies and tensions. Continuous engagement with the respondents, developing trust and having an open communication regarding your intentions as a researcher aids during the interview process. Once the respondents get to understand that you are a “researchers” and not “politicians”; they open up easily and reveal data in the form of lived experiences and actual stories that provide rich data useful for in-depth studies. Also, it is not a good idea to start with the questions on caste during the initial phase of the interview, it’s better to start with topics like trade unions and then move on to caste

 

 

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Psychology and Developing Societies

Psychology needs to shift from an individual model to a holistic, contextual and cultural model to contribute meaningfully to the United Nations’ agenda for sustainable development 2030

The new UN development agenda for 2030 has health, including mental health (MH) and well-being (WB), as an important goal for sustainable development (SD). Psychology as a discipline can contribute to this agenda because it is at the crossroads, the intersection between the individual and the environment, and can guide the building of economic/social/cultural environments that sustain MH and WB along with physical health (PH). Psychology is also at the crossroads as a discipline. The current dominant scientific and increasingly biologically based paradigm of psychology deals only with the material aspects of existence and may not be adequate to the task of building a sustainable environment. It emphasizes the biological aspects of individual psychological functioning and leaves out the connection with and impact of the social environment on MH and WB.

PDSA new paradigm in psychology is called for, one that is based on a holistic model drawn from non-Western cultures that includes all the levels of functioning from the biological to the spiritual, and that addresses the individual’s relationship with the social and natural environment within which the individual has to function. It could integrate the scientific biological approach with indigenous theories of connection with nature and with community. This would change the paradigm to one that is more relevant to building a sustainable society that nurtures the health and WB of its members. Mainstream psychology can maintain the status quo and the dominance of scientific psychology, or shift to a paradigm with a holistic understanding of human functioning. This has implications for SD, including social policy and programme development and implementation. This article from ‘Psychology and Developing Societies’ will develop this argument within the framework of the new UN 2030 SD agenda, which is dependent on the creation of a social, cultural and economic environment that fosters ‘healthy lives and well-being for all at all ages’ (goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda).

Read full article here!

Abstract

The author argues that if psychologists are to contribute meaningfully to the United Nations’ agenda for sustainable development (SD) 2030, they will need to shift from a model that is biologically based individual model to a holistic, contextual and cultural model. Global media and consumer culture have created unhealthy, social and cultural environments, which are seen as having an adverse effect on psychological health. The article focuses on the culture change coming about due to advancement of technology, changes in values of society and acculturation as the reasons for decrement in mental health (MH) and well-being (WB). Integration of mainstream psychology with indigenous psychology can guide building of environments that sustain physical health and MH as well as societal sustainability.

Click here to read Psychology at the Crossroads: Sustainable Development or Status Quo? for free from Psychology and Developing Societies.

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Macro-Social Marketing and Gun Violence in America

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Traditionally marketing has focused on how to change individual’s behavior in order to buy a product. What media strategies can increase sales, and how to associate values with products? With the advent of the social marketing fields, analysis focused on how conventional marketing tools could be used to change behavior to improve one’s well being and address social problems. While there is a wealth of literature that looks at how government agencies can utilize marketing tools to effect individuals engaged in certain behavior, there has been little research on how NGO’s utilize the same tools to alter behavior and invoke policy changes.

Researchers and Authors Aimee Dinnin Huff, Michelle Barnhart, Brandon McAlexander, and Jim McAlexander perform a pertinent expansion of this field by  looking at how American Gun Violence Prevention groups (GVPGS) act as macro-social marketers.

They recently published in article in the Journal of Macromarketing entitled, “Addressing the Wicked Problem of American Gun Violence: Consumer Interest Groups as Macro-social Marketers,” which is free to read for a limited time. The abstract for the article is below:

Building on work on social and macro-social marketing, we provide an empirical account of ways in which American gun violence prevention groups (GVPGs) act as macro-social marketers as they address the wicked problem of gun violence, which they define as deaths and injuries with firearms. We find that, as a collective, GVPGs attempt to change the culture related to guns by targeting up-, mid-, and downstream agents. We contribute to theory by (1) expanding the concept of macro- social marketing beyond government entities to include consumer interest groups and collectives; (2) introducing internal marketing as a macro-social marketing tool critical for macro-social marketers dependent largely on volunteers; (3) elucidating ways that macro-social marketers can accomplish upstream changes indirectly, by encouraging consumers and citizens to influence policy makers; and (4) revealing marketing tactics that can be leveraged across up-, mid-, downstream, and internal efforts.

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The Evolution and Prospects of Service-Dominant Logic Research

[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Ralf Wilden of Newcastle Business School, University of Newcastle, Australia. Dr. Wilden recently published an article in the Journal of Service Research entitled “The Evolution and Prospects of Service-dominant Logic Research: An Investigation of Past, Present, and Future Research,” which is currently free to read for a limited time.” Below, Dr. Wilden reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

02JSR13_Covers.inddService innovation is a driving force of economic growth in developed economies. Large corporations, such as BMW and IBM, increasingly define their business as service centric. For example, the BMW Group has moved away from defining their value proposition being focused on cars and motorcycles to positioning themselves as a mobility provider, thus moving away from a product-centered to service-centered narrative. The ‘servitization’ of traditional business models converges with a growing academic discourse around the emergence and evolution of the so-called ‘service-dominant logic’. Ongoing studies in this area explore the value of service in dynamic exchange systems and how managers are responding to or guided by ideas that 1) service forms the basis of all economic exchange, 2) value is always co-created between relevant actors, and 3) so-called operant resources are central to value co-creation.

In a recent study in the Journal of Service Research, an international team of researchers studied existing research to uncover core concepts and thematic shifts in the development of new knowledge in this field. More specifically, they studied how service-dominant logic advances the understanding of how value is created and service is innovated in dynamic service ecosystems. Based on a citation analyses and text mining of more than 300 key articles, the authors identify how service-dominant logic bridges traditional service research (e.g., regarding satisfaction, quality and customer experiences) with strategic and systems views. However, looking at the evolution of service-dominant logic research over time, it appears focus on strategic research has waned. Thus, the authors argue future studies should draw on several specific research areas to develop frameworks to aid managers in strategically thinking about service design and innovation.

The results from this study verify service-dominant logic is highly influential in areas such as customer engagement and value cocreation. An underlying shift towards social and systemic perspectives is also evident. However, many valuable insights emerging from the wealth of relevant studies have not yet impacted research regarding managerial decision-making and strategy development on a large scale. Furthermore, the authors identify the need to develop a stronger understanding of the way service-dominant logic can be used to inform how managerial actions and social and cultural practices influence and are influenced by a wider service ecosystem. For example, Ralf Wilden says “the way organizations engage in innovation-related activities has changed from a firm-centric model to a model that stresses the importance of knowledge in-flows and out-flows across organizational boundaries.” He adds, “despite the commonly accepted importance of services in value creation activities our knowledge about the role of open innovation in service ecosystems is limited.” The authors further stress that service thinking has benefited from interdisciplinary research in the past. Moving forward, combining service-dominant research with organizational strategy insights in the area of open innovation, dynamic capabilities and microfoundations, together with social, cultural and systems theories, can lead to developing new knowledge regarding service and drive continual improvement in service design and innovation.

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