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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How Coca-Cola Uses Social Media to Promote Corporate Social Initiatives

19792301106_fa09faba36_zWhat is the most effective way for companies to implement corporate social marketing (CSM)? In the Social Marketing Quarterly article “Examining Public Response to Corporate Social Initiative Types: A Quantitative Content Analysis of Coca-Cola’s Social Media,” authors Lucinda L. Austin and Barbara Miller Gaither suggest that the effectiveness depends upon the the corporate social initiative (CSI) type and the message content more than anything else. The abstract for the paper:

Corporate social initiatives (CSIs) are increasingly important in boosting public acceptance for companies, and emerging research suggests corporate social marketing (CSM) could be Current Issue Coverthe most effective type of CSI. However, scholars caution that CSM is not a one-size-fits-all. Through a content analysis of Coca-Cola’s social media posts on potentially controversial topics related to sustainability, health, and social change, this study explores how CSI type and message content influence public response to an organization’s social media corporate social responsibility posts. Posts emphasizing socially responsible business practices generally received the most favorable public response, while posts focused on cause promotion were received the most negatively. Findings also suggest that CSM is less effective when the issue and advocated behavior change appears to be acting against the company’s interests.

You can read “Examining Public Response to Corporate Social Initiative Types: A Quantitative Content Analysis of Coca-Cola’s Social Media” from Social Marketing Quarterly free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know all about the latest research from Social Marketing Quarterly? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

*Coca-Cola image attributed to Aranami (CC)

Rethinking How We Measure Corporate Social Responsibility

10617765806_b7f4f4ca12_z[We’re pleased to welcome Gunther Capelle-Blancard. Gunther recently published an article in Business & Society with co-author Aurélien Petit entitled “The Weighting of CSR Dimensions: One Size Does Not Fit All.”]

Companies could develop eco-friendly products or support social programs, and meanwhile damage the environment or experiment governance failures. Corporate Social Responsibility is multidimensional. Often, though, responsible investors (and customers) are interested in synthetic rankings that sum up the ESG (Environmental, Social and corporate Governance) scores.  Such composite scores raise fundamental questions which, surprisingly, are widely overlooked by academics and practitioners.

If the question of fungibility (“do good actions compensate bad ones?”) is essential and has been discussed in the literature, this article focuses on commensurability (the “apples and oranges” problem). For instance, Oil & Gas companies are mostly criticized on environmental issues, while corporate governance is the main stake for Banks. Overall ratings that sum equally environmental, social and corporate governance marks would not reflect the sectors’ concerns. One size does not fit all.

We develop a new method of CSR rating, based on news disclosed by the media and nongovernmental organizations. Thanks to the Covalence EthicalQuote database, we BAS Coveranalyze more than 70,000 positive or negative ESG news, regarding the world’s largest companies. Our results suggest that rating agencies and previous academic research underweight the environment and corporate governance. Mostly, our method allows fitting the ratings to the sectors’ specific stakes. It can be used to assess Corporate Social Performance better.

The abstract for the paper:

Although the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is fundamentally multidimensional, most studies use composite scores to assess corporate social performance (CSP). How relevant are such composite scores? How the CSR dimensions are weighted? Should the weighting scheme be the same across sectors? This article proposes an original weighting scheme of CSR strengths and concerns, at the sector level, which is proportional to media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) scrutiny. The authors show that previous CSP assessments underweight environmental and corporate governance concerns. Moreover, findings suggest that firms that are exposed to the closest scrutiny are usually criticized on one single dimension: for instance, banks for bad corporate governance, and basic-resource firms for environmental damage. Composite scores based on equal weights hence misrepresent CSP and the difference in CSR between sectors.

You can read “The Weighting of CSR Dimensions: One Size Does Not Fit All” from Business & Society free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know all about the latest research from Business & SocietyClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

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*Highrise image credited to Sonny Abesamis (CC)

gunther_IMG_20150922_164249_b41bfe265c.jpgGunther Capelle-Blancard (PhD, University of Paris 1) is professor of economics at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and research fellow at the Centre d’Economie de la Sorbonne and Labex RéFi (Regulation financière). His research examines socially responsible investment, corporate social performance, and financial market regulation. His articles have appeared in such journals as Business Ethics: A European Review, European Financial Management Journal, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, and Journal of Investing.

Aurélien Petit

Aurélien Petit (PhD, University of Paris 1) is research fellow at the Centre d’Economie de la Sorbonne. His research interests focus on corporate social responsibility and information disclosure strategies.

Good in Theory, Bad in Practice: Corporate Social Marketing in the Alcohol Industry

Green Margarita

Corporate social marketing (CSM) campaigns are used to improve the image of a wide variety of companies. Each CSM initiative is unique, but when it comes to companies in the alcohol industry, CSM campaigns seem to share a certain moral ambiguity. In sharp contrast to the other CSM initiatives, which demonstrate how an organization contributes positively to the community, similar campaigns for companies in the alcohol industry have drawn criticism for the way they promote “responsible drinking.” In their article, “Smokescreens and Beer Googles: How Alcohol Industry CSM Protects the Industry,” published in Social Marketing QuarterlySandra C. Jones of Australian Catholic University, Austin Wyatt of Swinburne University of Technology, and Mike Daube of McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth delve into why CSM campaigns for organizations in the alcohol industry can prove to be problematic, particularly for the community.

The abstract:

Corporate social marketing (CSM) is one of several initiatives companies can undertake to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility (CSR). While there are many motivations for CSR and CSM, all are linked to profit in some way, including promoting the reputation of the organization. While CSM is often seen as evidence of SMQ Jan 2016organizations making a contribution to their community, there are some industries whose CSM campaigns have drawn considerable controversy and criticism. This article discusses the role of the alcohol industry in developing and disseminating “responsible drinking” CSM activities. It discusses some of the problems identified with alcohol industry CSM campaigns—including evidence that industry education campaigns communicate ambiguous messages; improve public perceptions of the industry but do not discourage harmful or underage drinking; and divert attention from more effective approaches, such as controls on price and availability. The paper also addresses the issue of other CSM/CRM activities undertaken by the alcohol industry, such as encouraging consumers to purchase a brand by donating a proportion of the profits to health and social causes (including those that are exacerbated by alcohol consumption). It discusses the value of these activities for the industry and their potential negative impact on the health of the community. In summary, the evidence suggests that industry CSM and CRM activities protect the industry (from restrictive policies and declining sales) but may in fact be detrimental to the community.

You can read “Smokescreens and Beer Goggles: How Alcohol Industry CSM Protects the Industry” from Social Marketing Quarterly by clicking here. Want to know all about the latest research from Social Marketing Quarterly? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

Mixing Business and Ethics: How the Rotary Club Encouraged Ethical Business Practices

connected-people-988001-mLarge corporations have long been the focus of corporate social  responsibility (CSR) studies. Such studies seem to support the separation thesis, which suggests that business and ethics are mutually exclusive. However, reexamining the role of small businesses in the history of CSR challenges the separation thesis and provides a new perspective on the relationship between business and society. A historical case study of the Rotary Club demonstrates how mixing business and moral decision making has benefited small business owners in the past. Mark Tadajewski recently explored this topic in his article “The Rotary Club and the Promotion of the Social Responsibilities of Business in the Early 20th Century” from Business & Society.

The abstract:

The separation thesis states that business and moral decision making should and can be differentiated clearly. This study provides empirical support for the competing view that the separation thesis is impossible through a BAScase study of the Rotary Club, which fosters an ethical orientation among its global business and professional membership. The study focuses attention on the Club in the early to middle 20th century. Based on a reading of their service doctrine, the four objects of Rotary and the Four Way Test, the author argues that the example of the Rotary Club undermines the separation thesis. The Rotary message was conceptually ambiguous: it did not clearly differentiate business roles from social activities; rather both fed into each other, with the business tools developed by members and disseminated by Rotary, utilized in nonbusiness contexts with a view to enhancing societal well-being.

You can read “The Rotary Club and the Promotion of the Social Responsibilities of Business in the Early 20th Century” from Business & Society by clicking here. Want to be notified of all the latest research like this from Business & Society? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

Responsible Management Education – Are Schools Walking Their Talk?

business-graphics-1428641-m[We’re pleased to welcome Andreas Rasche of Copenhagen Business School. Dr. Rasche recently published an article in the July issue of Journal of Management Inquiry with Dirk Ulrich Gilbert of the University of Hamburg entitled “Decoupling Responsible Management Education: Why Business Schools May Not Walk Their Talk.”]

In the recent past business school education has been increasingly in the line of fire. The public, politicians, and scholars alike blamed business schools to educate the wrong people in the wrong ways, paving the way for irresponsible management practices. Driven by discussions about whether and to what extent business schools contributed to the 2008-2009 financial crisis and to large-scale corporate accounting scandals, the discourse on responsible management education has gained traction. Schools are increasingly asked to educate students in a way that they build up knowledge related to corporate responsibility, sustainability, and ethics. Numerous initiatives have problematized “traditional” management education by calling on business schools to adapt to new realities. Initiatives like the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) and the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI) have called on business schools to embed relevant discussions into their curricula and extracurricular activities. These initiatives are popular and many schools publicly support their underlying agenda (e.g., 554 schools had signed onto PRME as of July 2014).

Our paper that appears in Journal of Management Inquiry titled “Decoupling Responsible Management Education – Why Business Schools JMI_72ppiRGB_powerpointMay Not Walk Their Talk” offers a hard look at the soft practice of responsible management education. We argue that responsible management education increasingly exposes schools to institutional pressures that can hardly be neglected (e.g., due to changing accreditation criteria). We further argue that while schools may respond to these pressures by modifying some of their formal structures (e.g., new policies and committees), there is a risk that under certain conditions they will decouple these structures from everyday organizational practices. Our analysis explores these conditions and suggests that decoupling is likely to occur when: (1) schools only have limited resources available, (2) there is resistance by powerful organizational actors, (3) schools face competing non-aligned institutional pressures, and when (4) organizational actors perceive institutional demands as ambiguous and hence believe that symbolic adoption will remain undiscovered.

We are not claiming that all business schools decouple talk from action when it comes to responsible management education. What we are claiming is that due to the organizational characteristics of business schools (e.g., protection of academic freedom) and the specific nature of institutional pressures surrounding responsible management education, there is a risk that some schools may decouple relevant structural effects. We believe that a discussion of whether, how and why business schools may decouple responsible management education is timely. As of July 2014, 43 schools were delisted from the PRME initiative for failure to comply with the initiative’s mandatory reporting requirements, while nine schools decided to withdraw from the initiative. The bottom line is this: If we really want schools to educate more responsible business leaders, we need to start a discussion about what enables and, most of all, impedes implementation. “Quick fixes”, like adding more elective courses with relevant content, are unlikely to do the job.

You can read “Decoupling Responsible Management Education: Why Business Schools May Not Walk Their Talk” from Journal of Management Inquiry for free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to have all the latest research like this from Journal of Management Inquiry sent directly to your inbox? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

rascheAndreas Rasche is professor of business in society at the Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and research director of the CBS World-Class Research Environment on “Governing Responsible Business.” He holds a PhD (Dr.rer.pol.) from European Business School, Germany, and a habilitation (Dr.habil.) from Helmut-Schmidt University, Hamburg. His research focuses on corporate responsibility standards (particularly the UN Global Compact), the political role of corporations in transnational governance, and the governance of global supply networks. More information is available at Dirk Ulrich Gilbert is a professor of business ethics at the University of Hamburg, Germany. He received his PhD from

gilbertDirk Ulrich Gilbert is a professor of business ethics at the University of Hamburg, Germany. He received his PhD from Johann Wolfgang Goethe–University in Frankfurt (Germany) and held positions at the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia) and the University of Nuremberg (Germany). His most recent research focuses on management education, international accountability standards, and deliberative democracy. He published in internationally acclaimed journals such as Business Ethics Quarterly, Business & Society, Academy of Management Learning and Education, Management International Review, and the Journal of Business Ethics.

Why Some Corporations Choose To Be Socially Responsible

clean-home-2-1193877-mDo you know what makes your pans non-stick or your toothpaste and hand soap fight bacteria? According to the European Commission Department for Health and Consumers, products like these can contain chemicals such as pesticides that cause cancer, reproductive and developmental issues, endocrine disruption, and environmental issues. While the EU has developed Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) to address this issue, the United States Government Accountability Office has made no recommendations for creating a similar program. So why would a company then choose to create their own regulations for their products? Authors Caroline E. Scruggs and Harry J. Van Buren III investigate in their article “Why Leading Consumer Product Companies Develop Proactive Chemical Management Strategies” from Business and Society.

The abstract:

Scholars have studied the various pressures that companies face related to socially responsible behavior when stakeholders know the particular social issues under consideration. Many have examined social responsibility in the context of BAS_v50_72ppiRGB_powerpointenvironmental responsibility and the general approaches companies take regarding environmental management. The issue of currently unregulated, but potentially hazardous, chemicals in consumer products is not well understood by the general public, but a number of proactive consumer product companies have voluntarily adopted strategies to minimize use of such chemicals. These companies are exceeding regulatory requirements by restricting from their products chemicals that could harm human or environmental health, despite the fact that these actions are costly. They do not usually advertise the details of their strategies to end consumers. This article uses interviews with senior environmental directors of 20 multinational consumer product companies to investigate why these companies engage in voluntary chemicals management. The authors conclude that the most significant reasons are to achieve a competitive advantage and stay ahead of regulations, manage relationships and maintain legitimacy with stakeholders, and put managerial values into practice. Many of the characteristics related to the case of chemicals management are extendable to other areas of stakeholder management in which risks to stakeholders are either unknown or poorly understood.

Click here to read “Why Leading Consumer Product Companies Develop Proactive Chemical Management Strategies” from Business and Society. This article is Open Access and free for viewing and sharing! Want to know about all the latest research like this from Business and Society? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!