Stages of Corporate Sustainability: Integrating the Strong Sustainability Worldview

[We’re pleased to welcome author Nancy E. Landrum of Loyola University Chicago. Landrum recently published an article in Stages of Corporate Sustainability: Integrating the Strong Sustainability Worldview,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Landrum reflects on the inspiration for conducting her research and her contribution to the field:]

O&E_72ppiRGB_powerpointI recently read sustainability reports produced by mining companies.  The reports stated the companies were balancing economic, social, and environmental responsibilities, their environmental impact was minimized while their social benefits were maximized, and they were striving to be environmental leaders.  Yet the dictionary describes sustainability as using a resource in a way that it is not depleted or permanently damaged.  I thought it was ironic that mining companies could claim they were operating sustainably since resource depletion is the purpose of mining.

I went back to the literature on the sustainability spectrum which suggests that sustainability is a continuum that ranges from weak to strong sustainability.  It occurred to me that while the mining companies’ activities did not match my understanding of sustainability, there could, in fact, be multiple interpretations of sustainability.  Companies’ activities could be placed along the sustainability spectrum to define whether they were following the principles of weak sustainability, strong sustainability, or somewhere in between.

This lead to the integration of 22 micro- and macro-level models of stages of development in corporate sustainability which were then aligned with the sustainability spectrum.  I found that existing models had numerous stages that aligned with weak sustainability but did not include stages that aligned with strong sustainability.  The integration of existing models and subsequent alignment with the sustainability spectrum resulted in the creation of a new unified model for stages of corporate sustainability that now included strong sustainability.

This new model allows us to see that companies can be at varying points along the sustainability spectrum and reveals multiple interpretations of sustainability.  While mining companies might be at one end of the spectrum, more progressive companies might be further along the spectrum; they are at different stages based upon their differing interpretations of corporate sustainability.  Most importantly, with the inclusion of strong sustainability, this new model expands our view beyond what currently defines corporate sustainability and opens new territory for the pursuit of a more sustainable future.

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Highlights from California Management Review’s Latest Issue

Calicmra_59_2.cover.pngfornia Management Review has served as a bridge of communication between academia and management practice for sixty years. The newest issue of CMR is now online to view, and features articles covering various topics such as managing technology through outsourcing, managing customer relations, and analyzing sustainability in big corporations.

One article in particular, “Decentralization and Localization of Production: The Organizational and Economic Consequences of Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing),” co-authored by Avner Ben-Ner and Enno Siemsen, provides a glimpse into the research behind 3D printing, and how the phenomenon will likely become a local practice faster than you think.  The article is currently free to read for a limited time. Please find the abstract for the article below:

The future organizational landscape may change drastically by mid-century as a result of widespread implementation of 3D printing. This article argues that global will turn local; mega (factories, ships, malls) will become mini; long supply chains will shrink; many jobs will be broadened to combine design, consulting, sales, and production roles; and large organizations will make room for smaller ones. “A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.” [President Obama, State of the Union Address, 2013].

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Want to submit to CMR? Visit https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/uc-cmr to begin your submission!

Studying Organization Theory “As If Matter Mattered”

[We’re pleased to welcome Bruno Dyck of University of Manitoba. Bruno recently published an article with co-author Nathan S. Greidanus in Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Quantum Sustainable Organizing Theory: A Study of Organization Theory as if Matter Mattered.” From Bruno:]

From environmental concerns like climate change to social issues like economic inequality, sustainable development presents this century’s greatest challenges and opportunities for businesses.  Yet, businesses remain trapped by old paradigms and approaches to the business-society-environment interface. To break free of these chains, we start with a simple question: what would a theory of business look like if matter mattered?  In answering this question, we turned to the field that is focused on the fundamental building blocks of all matter, quantum physics.

Do you remember the first time you heard about the unbelievable findings coming Current Issue Coverfrom quantum mechanics? Maybe it was research on entanglement, which shows that two quantum particles (e.g., two electrons) are interconnected in such a way that a change in one will have an instantaneous change in another, even if it is light years away. Or do you remember hearing about the results from the double slit experiments—perhaps the most famous experiment in all of physics—which shows that observing a photon changes it from acting like a wave into acting like a particle (If you want to watch a simple video about this, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfPeprQ7oGc). Perhaps the most amazing variation of the double slit experiment shows that information is being sent backward in time. It has taken a century, but quantum physics has today become a dominant paradigm in the world of physics, even if we in the social sciences remain “stuck” in a Newtonian space-time box.

As co-authors we were fascinated by quantum research, and were curious about its implications for organization theory, and especially for sustainability. We believe that the ideas of entanglement and indeterminism provide a welcome and necessary framework to develop organizing theory that addresses key socio-ecological issues facing humankind, and which break free from the constraints associated with (Newtonian) notions of separateness, determinism and externalities. Moreover, a quantum perspective, which suggests that matter matters, provides a welcome counterpoint to the problematic fixation on socio-material well-being (e.g., money) that characterizes conventional theorizing.

We were pleasantly surprised by how readily the fundamental principles associated with the quantum world can serve as the basis to develop sustainable organization theory, As the sustainability issues facing humankind grow in urgency, we expect such non-Newtonian thinking to become as dominant in our field as it is in physics, but if this takes a century to happen then it may be too late.

The abstract for the paper:

We draw on quantum physics ideas of “entanglement” and “indeterminism” to introduce and develop “Quantum Sustainable Organizing Theory” (QSOT). Quantum entanglement points to the interconnectedness of matter in ways that defy Newtonian physics and commonsense assumptions that underlay conventional organizing theory. Quantum indeterminism suggests that uncertainty is an inherent feature of reality and not simply a lack of information that impedes rational decision making. Taken together, these quantum ideas challenge the assumptions of conventional organizational theorizing about the boundaries between a firm and its natural and social environment, the importance of self-interested individualism and (sociomaterial) financial measures of performance, the emphasis on competitiveness, and the hallmarks of rational theory and practice. We discuss implications for sustainable organizing in particular and for organization theory more generally.

You can read “Quantum Sustainable Organizing Theory: A Study of Organization Theory as if Matter Mattered” from Journal of Management Inquiry free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to stay current on all of the latest research from Journal of Management InquiryClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

Employees and the Environment: Promoting Eco-Friendly Behavior in the Workplace

blue-truck-recycle[We’re pleased to welcome Jennifer Tosti-Kharas of Babson College. Jennifer recently published an article in Organization & Environment with co-authors Eric Lamm and Tom E. Thomas entitled “Organization OR Environment? Disentangling Employees’ Rationales Behind Organizational Citizenship Behavior Toward the Environment.” From Jennifer:]

The origin of this paper came from bridging two different research projects. My co-authors, Tom Thomas and Eric Lamm of SFSU, published a theoretical paper regarding how individuals develop attitudes toward organizational sustainability. Meanwhile, Eric and I have performed research on what motivates employees to perform sustainable behaviors. We look at what we term organizational citizenship behaviors toward the environment ­ OCB-Es for short ­ which are voluntary actions at work that help conserve resources, things like recycling, printing double-sided, etc. This paper joined these two streams of inquiry to examine how the reasons why people think it is important to act sustainably at work relates to their performance of OCB-Es and we tested it empirically.

Most past research on this topic has used a measure of how important people think O&E_Mar_2012_vol26_no1_Cover_Final.inddsustainability is in general, meaning for broad ecological reasons, but never contextualized within a work organization. In the paper we distinguish between believing sustainability is important in and of itself, what we term an ³eco-centric rationale,² and believing it is important as a means to an end, specifically a business end, which we term an ³organization-centric rationale.² We also differentiate employees¹ own rationales about why it is important for their companies to operate sustainably from their perceptions about why their organizations believe it is important. Perhaps the most surprising finding when we surveyed 489 working adults across a wide range of organizations and occupations was that people were more likely to perform OCB-Es when they believed their organizations valued sustainability, regardless of their own personal beliefs about the importance of sustainability. These findings held for both eco-centric and organization-centric rationales. This to us was surprising, as lots of research would lead us to predict that personal values would trump perceived organizational values. Yet, we find the opposite, which suggests that perhaps people perform voluntary sustainability behaviors at work not just because they think it¹s important, but because their company believes it is important. It is worth noting that we included in our OCB-E measure not only simple, everyday tasks, but also ³higher-level² behaviors, like collaborating with other employees or making suggestions to supervisors to increase organizational sustainability.

These findings raise several interesting and timely implications for organizational leaders looking to increase employee sustainability behaviors. Since employee perceptions of organizational rationales for sustainability were so important in motivating OCB-Es, we advise communicating corporate values around sustainability and resource conservation as clearly as possible. By contrast, trying to screen employees for pro-environmental values seemed to be less important in a company that clearly communicated these values, since even employees who didn¹t buy in on their own behaved more sustainably when they believed their employers cared about the environment.

The abstract for the article:

Scholars and managers have raised the question of how to encourage employees to perform discretionary pro-environmental behaviors at work, termed organizational citizenship behaviors toward the environment (OCB-Es). This study examined how rationales for organizational sustainability relate to employees’ OCB-Es. We considered two rationales—eco-centric and organization-centric—and two sources—employees’ rationales and their perceptions of their employers’ rationales. Results from 489 working adults across a variety of organizations and occupations revealed that both eco-centric and organization-centric rationales at both individual and perceived organizational levels related to employees’ OCB-Es. Furthermore, we found interactive effects, such that employees’ perceptions of their organizations’ rationales were more important than their own rationales in determining OCB-Es. These findings contribute to a theoretical understanding of the complex and interrelated factors motivating employees to perform voluntary sustainability behaviors in organizations. In addition, our results are valuable for managers looking to increase employee sustainability behaviors.

You can read the article “Organization OR Environment? Disentangling Employees’ Rationales Behind Organizational Citizenship Behavior Toward the Environment” from Organization & Environment free for the next two weeks by clicking here.

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*Truck image attributed to MIKI Yoshihito (CC)

Is It Possible to Reduce Poverty and CO2 Emissions Simultaneously?

15489395937_f27a2e30e7_z[We’re pleased to welcome Denis Collins. Denis recently published an article in Organization & Environment entitled “Managing the Poverty-CO2 Reductions Paradox: The Case of China and EU” with co-author Chunfang Zheng.]

  • What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

We are greatly concerned about both the unhealthy amount of CO2 in the atmosphere contributing to climate change and poverty in developing nations. As a global community, we are quickly approaching an environmental tipping point that already contributes to social and political problems throughout the world, and threatens the human species. Also, as a global community, we need to do all that we can to help eradicate extreme poverty in developing nations. China has had tremendous success reducing poverty from 1990 to 2015, but in the process they have become, by far, the world’s largest CO2 emitter. This article examines the “Poverty-CO2 Reductions Paradox,” wherein reducing poverty through economic growth simultaneously increases carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from increased production and consumption, at a time in history when CO2 emissions must be reduced to avoid climate change catastrophes. Which is the lesser of two evils, people living in extreme poverty or catastrophic climate change impacts caused by increased CO2 emissions? How should the Poverty-CO2 Reductions Paradox be managed at the national and international levels? These are the questions our article explores.

  • Were there findings that were surprising to you?

Key economic and environmental indicators tell a sad story. Economically, 1.0 billion people (14.5%) lived in extreme poverty in 2011, and India had Gross National Income per capita of only $1,610 in 2014. Environmentally, the 2001-2010 decade was the warmest on record, reflecting a 0.85°C (1.53°F) increase since 1880. Global CO2 emissions increased by 51% between 1990 and 2012, and CO2 atmospheric concentrations have increased from a steady level of 280 parts per million in the pre-industrial era to more than 400 ppm. Absent additional mitigations, preventative O&E_Mar_2012_vol26_no1_Cover_Final.indd2050 benchmarks will not be achieved. To put a human face on those impacted by this potential catastrophe, scholars and researchers need to look no further than the traditional undergraduate students we currently teach: they will be about 55 years old in 2050.

How do we escape this dangerous quagmire? A well-established alternative norm continually raised by China is that of fairness. Fairness claims have shaped Kyoto Protocol’s development and evolution. During the 1990s, it was considered fair to hold developed nations accountable for reducing their CO2 emissions, and to allow developing nations to use a carbon intensity, rather than an emission reduction, metric. Kyoto’s inability to generate international agreements that adequately limit carbon emissions is also rooted in fairness claims. All claims of unfairness and injustice associated the Poverty-CO2 Reductions Paradox must be acknowledged and engaged, rather than ignored or discounted. Table 4 summarizes the major unfairness/injustice claims raised in this article.

Addressing the injustices associated the Poverty-CO2 Reductions Paradox will entail international, regional, national, and sub-national regulatory engagement.    At the international level, the UN and WTO must become even more involved without threatening national sovereignties. Individuals tend to resist, or very slowly accept, externally imposed procedural processes and outcomes. Fairness and transparency are particularly essential because people employed in high-carbon industries and ancillary businesses will have to change their livelihoods, and those living high-carbon lifestyles must make adjustments. Regulatory policymakers must acknowledge the Table 4 injustices, empathize with those impacted, and commit to seeking justice. This process involves extensive dialogue within and between nations, wherein experiences are expressed and heard. Historically, this has been difficult to achieve due to tendencies toward autocratic abuse of political power and perceiving opposing viewpoints as threatening. Private party rule-making can be helpful input, even if often prone to participant biases.

The Kyoto Protocol, despite its defects, has fostered convergence between the EU and China’s environmental policies and processes. The challenge is resolving economic growth and environmental sustainability conflicts through win-win, integrative, and paradox approaches, rather than trade-off resolutions. Unfortunately, the behavioral outcomes to date are record high carbon emissions and temperatures. Incremental and drastic policy changes are required. Future economic successes in developing and developed nations are dependent on reducing CO2 emissions. Leadership from many societal sectors, including higher education, is essential.

  • How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

The principle of fairness/justice is offered to guide efforts to resolve the paradox in a way that avoids irreversible climate changes projected to begin around 2050. Prominent stakeholder injustice claims are highlighted for future scholarship and policymaking considerations.

Even if affordable clean technologies were available to achieve low-carbon economic growth, integrative and 6558076321_81207b6dd7_z.jpgwin-win resolution approaches need to be undertaken to determine linkages among economic and environmental injustices to generate long-term justice benefits. Similarly, these resolution approaches need to be pursued to generate short-term justice benefits, such as protecting the poor from climate change related damages.

Business organizations have too often addressed the paradox between economic growth and the environment with a trade-off resolution approach strongly favoring economic growth to the detriment of the environment. More recently, some organizational leaders have been pursuing win-win opportunities. In the decades ahead, organizational leaders seeking competitive advantages will need to delve deeper into the tension points between profits and the environment, and develop integrative resolutions where their own economic growth and environmental performance are naturally balanced without favoring one over the other.

The regulatory rules and initiatives associated with the Poverty-CO2 Reductions Paradox must happen quickly. India, with 24% of its population living in extreme poverty, is following China’s lead. Despite already having some of the most polluted cities in the world, India’s energy minister stated in 2014 that (Harris, 2014, November 17): “India’s development imperatives cannot be sacrificed at the altar of potential climate changes many years in the future…The West will have to recognize we have the needs of the poor.”

Researchers must determine how to care for the needs of the poor in a way that does not threaten life on Earth for future generations.

The abstract for the paper:

This article examines the “Poverty–CO2 (carbon dioxide) Reductions Paradox,” wherein reducing poverty through economic growth simultaneously increases CO2 emissions from increased production and consumption, at a time in history when CO2 emissions must be reduced to avoid climate change catastrophes. Paradox theory and integrative social contracts theory are applied to help understand the evolving behaviors of China, the world’s largest CO2 emitter, and the European Union, a CO2 reduction leader, from 1990 to 2015 at the national and international levels. The environmental results of these activities have become species-threatening. The principle of fairness/justice is offered in order to guide efforts to resolve the paradox in a way that avoids irreversible climate changes projected to begin around 2050. Prominent stakeholder injustice claims are highlighted for future scholarship and policymaking considerations.

You can read “Managing the Poverty-CO2 Reductions Paradox: The Case of Chine and EU” from Organization & Environment free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know all about the latest research from Organization & EnvironmentClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

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*Face mask image credited to Global Panorama (CC); Beijing smog image credited to egorgrebnev (CC)

Denis Collins (PhD, University of Pittsburgh) is a professor of management, Business School, Edgewood College, Madison, Wisconsin. His latest books—Business Ethics: How to Design and Manage Ethical Organizations (2012; John Wiley) and Essentials in Business Ethics: Creating an Organization of High Integrity and Superior Performance (2009; John Wiley)—provide practical “how-to” examples and best practices for improving an organization’s ethical performance. He has published many articles; conducted hundreds of business ethics workshops, talks, and consulting projects; and won several teaching and service awards.

Chunfang Zheng (PhD, Renmin University of China) is a professor of economics, Business College, Beijing Union University, Beijing, China. She is Second Director of the Department of International Economy and Trade, and teaches courses in macroeconomics and international economics and trade. Her research interests include international economics and trade, border tax adjustments, and sustainable development. She has published several articles and monographs in these areas, including Applicability and Application of Strategic Trade Policy in China’s Industries (2012; Economic Science Press).

 

Applying a Business Model Perspective to Sustainability Solutions

[We’re pleased to welcome Caroline Gauthier of Grenoble Ecole de Management. Professor O&E_Mar_2012_vol26_no1_Cover_Final.inddGauthier co-authored an article with Bettina Gilomen of Grenoble Ecole de Management in Organization & Environment entitled “Business Models for Sustainability:
Energy Efficiency in Urban Districts”.]

  •  What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

The disruptive nature of many sustainability solutions may be the main barrier to their implementation and dispersal: adopting a business model perspective may help address this problem.

  • Were there findings that were surprising to you?

The implementation of sustainable solutions often relies on projects being implemented and managed collectively, so that organizations need to adapt their business models to deliver value propositions collectively. Some actors are working collectively to deliver innovative solutions for energy efficiency and therefore completely change the rules of the energy supply game.

  • How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

Sustainability issues should be addressed with a collective business models perspective.

The abstract:

The disruptive nature of many sustainability solutions may be the main barrier to their implementation and dispersal: adopting a business model perspective may help address this problem. Previous literature has explored how organizations can convert their supply chains and customer interfaces toward a sustainability focus, but has generally not considered links to other business model elements—such as value propositions and financial models—in exploring business model transitions. Moreover, the implementation of sustainable solutions often relies on projects being implemented and managed collectively, so that organizations need to adapt their business models to deliver value propositions collectively, a phenomenon that research on business models for sustainability should address. This article addresses these issues by exploring changes in business model elements in detail via an in-depth qualitative study of two French sustainable urban projects—Caserne de Bonneand IssyGrid®. Our results show, first, that it is worth considering the role played by business model elements (the value proposition and the financial model) that literature does not usually discuss in enabling the management of or transition to business models for sustainability. Second, considering all four business model elements allows us to develop a typology of their transformations in organizations working toward sustainable solutions. Third, introducing the necessary collective dimension of sustainable solutions highlights the role of agency in facilitating their development and adoption.

You can read “Business Models for Sustainability: Energy Efficiency in Urban Districts” from Organization & Environment free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know about all the latest research from Organization & Environment? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

The Business of Bumble Bees: A Look at the Relationship Between Business and Biodiversity Loss

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Small though they may be, bumble bees play a large part in the environment. As pollinators, bees assist in the reproductive process of flowering plants, including crops that produce food, fiber, drugs, and fuel. More than a third of the world’s crops rely on bees as pollinators, which makes the population decline of bees in recent years particularly alarming. In their article, “Invisible Compromises: Global Business, Local Ecosystems, and the Commercial Bumble Bee Trade,” published in Organization & Environment, authors Carol Reade, Robin Thorp, Koichi Goka, Marius Wasbauer, and Mark McKenna use the bumble bee trade as a lens to explore the complex relationship between global business and ecosystem health, including biodiversity loss. In addition, the article explores ways that businesses can adopt more sustainable practices.

The abstract:

The purpose of this article is to challenge organizational scholars, management educators, and business leaders oae coverto consider more deeply the impact of global business activities on local ecosystems. Drawing on the management, sustainability, and entomology literature, we illustrate the complex relationship between global business and biodiversity loss through the lens of the commercial bumble bee trade. Global firms in this trade rear and supply bees for greenhouse crop pollination. We build on a well-known global strategy framework used in management education by adding a sustainability dimension, and offering propositions for the relationship between global business strategy and the strength of environmental sustainability. We conclude that a locally responsive, place-sensitive business strategy supports the strongest degree of environmental sustainability, and addresses the invisible compromises to ecosystem health that may result from the efforts of global firms to provide otherwise beneficial products and services.

You can read “Invisible Compromises: Global Business, Local Ecosystems, and the Commercial Bumble Bee Trade” from Organization & Environment by clicking here. Want to be notified of all the latest research like this from Organization & Environment? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!