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:]


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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An Update on Tourism Economics

SAGE Publishing is very pleased to welcome Albert Assaf from the University of Massachusetts, and Raffaele Scuderi (Kore University of Enna) who have joined as the new Editors of Tourism Economics, taking over from Stephen Wanhill who remains as Editor Emeritus and an active member of the editorial board.

Tourism Economics covers the business aspects of tourism in the wider context. It takes account of constraints on development, such as social and community interests and the sustainable use of tourism and recreation resources, and inputs into the production process. The definition of tourism used includes tourist trips taken for all purposes, embracing both stay and day visitors.

teua_23_7.coverAlbert and Raffale have recently done a revamp of the article types that can be submitted to Tourism Economics including the addition of new research article types; including a new Invited Commentary article. More information can be found here. These articles are usually invited by the editor and represent a short opinion or discussion about some on-going topics or debates in the tourism economic literature, but potential authors are welcome to submit a commentary article proposal to the editors, indicating the topic, a detailed abstract,
to the editors via e-mail: Albert Assaf assaf@isenberg.umass.edu or Raffaele Scuderi raffaele.scuderi@unikore.it

Tourism Economics also has several ongoing special issues which the editors encourage you to submit to:
Special Issue: “Economic implications of coporate social responsibility and sustainability in tourism and hospitality
Special Issue: “Spatial economics and tourism development
Special Issue: “Tourism Forecasting: New Trends and Issues

Welcome, Albert and Raffaele to the editorship of Tourism Economics!

Is It Unfair to Blame Fast-Food Corporations for Obesity?

burgur-isolated-1014535-mAccording to an online article from the Obesity Action Coalition, in the United States there are approximately three hundred thousand fast-food establishments and 33.8% percent of the country’s population is obese. But how closely are the two connected? Who’s to blame if they are? Judith Schrempf discusses this in her article “A Social Connection Approach to Corporate Responsibility: The Case of Fast-Food Industry and Obesity” from Business and Society.

The abstract:

Corporate responsibility for consumption-related issues has been on the business ethics agendaBAS_v50_72ppiRGB_powerpoint for several decades. However, some recent consumption-related issues, such as obesity, differ qualitatively from the traditional product liability cases. This study proposes an alternative responsibility concept, referred to as the social connection corporate responsibility (CR). A detailed conceptualization of the social connection CR is presented and subsequently contrasted with the liability approach to CR. Then, a social connection logic to the case of obesity is applied, followed by an examination of how fast-food chains are socially connected to obesity and of what kind of responsibilities such a social connection implies.

Click here to read “A Social Connection Approach to Corporate Responsibility: The Case of Fast-Food Industry and Obesity” from Business and Society for free. Make sure to sign up for e-alerts by clicking here and keep up with all the latest from Business and Society!


The CSR Agenda: Part 4 of 5

On Tuesday, Forbes published a case study about a corporate social responsibility strategy that spelled the difference between life and death:

Around 2000, Xerox was in big trouble. According to Dr. Joseph Cahalan, Xerox’s Vice President of Communications and Social Responsibility, the company was literally “days” away from filing for bankruptcy. Still, employees didn’t defect en masse like rats from a sinking ship. On the contrary, they rallied around the Xerox banner, fighting tooth and nail to keep the company afloat as if the company was a local mom and pop shop, not a Fortune 500. Cahalan attributes this to the culture which attracted him to work for Xerox in the first place: “People stayed and made that fight to save the company, in large part because they feel that it’s a company worth saving.”

How did Xerox earn this kind of loyalty?

Click here to read the article in Forbes.

What corporate social responsibility strategies are playing out in your research or practice? In this fourth installment of our series on CSR, we present an assortment of articles that tackle the issues across the field. We also hope to hear from you: CSR-related papers are currently being sought by SAGE journals from the Journal of Marketing Education and  Organization & Environment to Cornell Hospitality Quarterly and Business & Society. You can view some of the latest Calls for Papers here.

Part Four: How are the current shifts in CSR strategy playing out?

Click here to read “A Social Connection Approach to Corporate Responsibility: The Case of the Fast-Food Industry and Obesity” by Judith Schrempf of University of Richmond, published on July 24, 2012 in Business & Society.

Click here to read “The Prospects and Limits of Eco-Consumerism: Shopping Our Way to Less Deforestation?” by Peter Dauvergne and Jane Lister, both of the University of British Columbia, published in the June 2010 issue of Organization & Environment.

Click here to read “Organization-Based Social Marketing: An Alternative Approach for Organizations Adopting Sustainable Business Practices” by Mary Franks Papakosmas of the University of Wollongong and Gary Noble and John Glynn, both of the Sydney Business School and Faculty of Commerce, published in the June 2012 issue of Social Marketing Quarterly.

Click here to read “Societal Development Through Human Resource Development: Contexts and Key Change Agents” by Namhee Kim of Walden University, published in the August 2012 issue of Advances in Developing Human Resources.

Click here to read “Does Environmental Certification Help the Economic Performance of Hotels? Evidence from the Spanish Hotel Industry” by María-del-Val Segarra-Oña and Ángel Peiró-Signes of the Universitat Politècnica de València, Rohit Verma of Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, and Luis Miret-Pastor of the Universitat Politècnica de València, published in the August 2012 issue of Cornell Hospitality Quarterly.

Don’t miss tomorrow’s series finale, in which we’ll close with thoughts on constructing a CSR agenda for the future.