Business Perceptions of Biodiversity as Social Learning

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Thomas Smith, Dr. George Holmes, and Dr. Jouni Paavola of the University of Leeds. They recently published an article in Organization & Environment entitled “Social Underpinnings of Ecological Knowledge: Business Perceptions of Biodiversity as Social Learning,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the methods, and contribution of their research:]

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Despite mounting concerns regarding the degradation and loss of species, habitats and ecosystems occurring worldwide, biodiversity remains an underexplored issue in corporate sustainability. Increasingly, conservationists, policymakers and organisations such as the WBCSD are focussing on business contributions to tackling biodiversity loss. Yet we know little of how different institutional contexts influence efforts to reduce operational impacts on biodiversity, for instance. It is also unclear how different stakeholders can help – or hinder – reform.

This paper integrates social learning and institutional theory to understand business approaches to controlling impacts on biodiversity. Social learning is often used to examine processes of knowledge transfer and reform in natural resource management, but tends to focus on local communities and public bodies rather than businesses. Combined with institutional theory, social learning demonstrates how social systems shape responses to ecological contexts.

This paper adds to ONE research by demonstrating that to understand business responses to biodiversity, it is vital to focus on interactions between social and ecological systems, rather than each system in isolation. Biodiversity is complex, varying across contexts: successfully conserving it means integrating multiple forms of knowledge and values. Business responses to biodiversity need to be examined across multiple contexts, developed to developing country, tropical to temperate, terrestrial to marine, etc.

Although corporate sustainability scholars must be mindful of social and ecological factors specific to one or another context, this should not prevent us from seeking to identify universal principles underlying best practice. Work on stakeholder engagement and institutional views of the firm applied to other issues in corporate sustainability might be used to inform best practices. There is much left to consider and to research regarding business and biodiversity.

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BAS Best Paper Award

basa_57_7_cover.pngCongratulations to the winners of Business & Society 2017 Best Paper Award:

Natalie Salwinski of Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Jonatan Pinkse of the University of Manchester, Timo Busch of University of Hamburg, Germany, and Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee of City University London.

Check out the award winning article free for a limited time: “The Role of Short-Termism and Uncertainty Avoidance in Organizational Inaction on Climate Change

You can find the abstract of this article below.

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Despite increasing pressure to deal with climate change, firms have been slow to respond with effective action. This article presents a multi-level framework for a better understanding of why many firms are failing to reduce their absolute greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change. The concepts of short-termism and uncertainty avoidance from research in psychology, sociology, and organization theory can explain the phenomenon of organizational inaction on climate change. Antecedents related to short-termism and uncertainty avoidance reinforce one another at three levels—individual, organizational, and institutional—and result in organizational inaction on climate change. The article also discusses the implications of this multi-level framework for research on corporate sustainability.

Thank you for your outstanding contribution!


Business & Society invites you to submit your research for their special issue entitled, New Perspectives on Bottom of the Pyramid Strategies. For more information, check out the guidelines.


Climate Change Photo attributed to Free Photos.

Business Cases for Sustainability – A Stakeholder Theory Perspective

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Stefan Schaltegger and Jacob Hörisch of Leuphana University, Luneburg and Edward Freeman of Darden Business School.  Schaltegger, Hörisch and Freeman recently published an article in Organization & Environment entitled “Business Cases for Sustainability: A Stakeholder Theory Perspective,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, the three authors reflect on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

33048305825_efac4c4770_oWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

More and more private companies are voluntarily releasing statistics concerning how often they receive requests for their subscribers’ information, on what grounds the requests are made, and how many subscribers’ data has been disclosed. These statistics are bundled in transparency reports and their release has generally been seen as shedding light on otherwise secretive government activity, be it surveillance practices undertaken by intelligence agencies, by security intelligence agencies, or by law enforcement agencies. I wanted to understand a few things in my course of research: would companies that were not facing intense socio-economic pressures produce voluntary transparency reports that robustly revealed government surveillance practices? How effective are voluntarily produced transparency reports, generally, in shedding light on corporate and government activity? And what might be the impacts of standardizing these sorts of voluntary reports, and how might such standardization come about?

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

Countries around the world are grappling with the issue of government access to telecommunications data. The issue has become particularly poignant given revelations of international spying undertaken by Western countries, as well as a range of existing and proposed laws in Europe and North America that would facilitate police and security services’ access to communications information. However, governments have tended to be deeply secretive in how they use existing powers or how they would actually use proposed powers. Private companies’ voluntarily produced transparency reports, which provide statistics and narrative accounts of how often and on what grounds governments request access to companies’ data, act as a novel way of shining a light upon government practice. I was motivated to understand just how much these reports genuinely shed light on government practice and how much they cast shadows over the politics and policies of communications surveillance.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
There is an extensive literature on corporate social responsibility documents and the extent to which those documents make private firms transparent, as well as a literature discussing the importance of rendering government surveillance transparent to the public. What is novel about my research is it explores how private firms’ reports are produced in contravention of state desires or interests and, thus, how transparency reporting can happen outside of situations where the market or government are clamoring for revelations of firm behavior. Core to my findings is that voluntarily produced reports could potentially be standardized to enhance comparability across firms and the reports’ revelatory nature, but that any such standardization may conceal as much about firm behavior as it reveals. Ultimately, this research advances the scholarly and public policy debate over how (in)effective private firms’ reports’ are in advancing the state of knowledge of government surveillance activities versus concealing some aspects of such activities.

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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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Can a Business Be Socially Responsible and Still Make a Profit?

businessman-holding-crystal-globe-1281812-mAccording to Thompson Reuters, sustainability in business once meant a company covering its operating costs with profits. These days that definition has transformed into a term that refers to a business making decisions that benefit society. But is it possible for an organization to function successfully by adapting a blend of these doctrines? Nardia Haigh and Andrew J. Hoffman explore this idea in their article “The New Heretics: Hybrid Organizations and the Challenges They Present to Corporate Sustainability” from Organization and Environment.

The abstract:

Corporate sustainability has become mainstream; reaching into all areas of business management. Yet despite this progress, oae coverlarge-scale social and ecological issues continue to worsen. In this article, we examine how corporate sustainability has been enacted as a concept that supports the dominant beliefs of strategic management rather than challenging them to shift business beyond the unsustainable status quo. Against this backdrop, we consider how hybrid organizations (organizations at the interface between for-profit and nonprofit sectors that address social and ecological issues) are operating at odds with beliefs embedded in strategic management and corporate sustainability literatures. We offer six propositions that define hybrid organizations based on challenges they present to the beliefs embedded in these literatures and position them as new heretics of strategic management and corporate sustainability orthodoxy. We conclude with the implications of this heretical force for theory and suggest directions for future research.

“The New Heretics: Hybrid Organizations and the Challenges They Present to Corporate Sustainability” from Organization and Environment can be read for free by clicking here. Want to know about all the latest news and research from Organization and Environment? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!