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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The Climate Challenge: Special Issue of Business & Society

Business & Society has released a special issue on the important global topic of climate change, corporate strategy, and politics, bringing together articles by a team of scholars from institutions in Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States. Guest editors Chukwumerije Okereke of the University of Reading, Bettina Wittneben of the University of Oxford, and Frances Bowen of Queen Mary University of London authored the introductory essay, titled “Climate Change: Challenging Business, Transforming Politics.” To access all articles in this special issue, please click here.

The abstract:

Climate change challenges contemporary management practices and ways of organizing. While aspects of this challenge have been long recognized, many pertinent dimensions are less effectively articulated. Based on contemporary literature and insights from articles submitted to this special issue, the guest editors of this special issue highlight some of the challenges posed by climate change to government and business, and indicate the range of options and approaches being adopted to address these challenges.

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Environmental Perception, Management, and Competitive Opportunity

María Dolores López-Gamero, Enrique Claver-Cortés and José Francisco Molina-Azorín, all of University of Alicante, published “Environmental Perception, Management, and Competitive Opportunity in Spanish Hotels” on September 15th in Cornell Hospitality Quarterly’s OnlineFirst collection. Other articles that are available OnlineFirst can be found here.

The Abstract:

Seeking to fill the gap on research regarding the hospitality industry in relation to the environment, this article examines the environmental peculiarities of the tourism industry. Applying a single framework, the article analyzes the antecedents of organizations’ perceptions of the environment by combining two theoretical approaches: institutional theory and the resource-based view. The study uses a structural equation model to analyze the data from 239 hotels in Spain. The findings show that a number of external factors (i.e., environmental regulation, stakeholders, and uncertainty) and internal factors (i.e., resources and capabilities) have different effects on managerial perceptions of the environment as a competitive opportunity. The study demonstrates that the attitude and perceptions of managers appear to be essential factors for investment in preventive environmental technologies. Among other findings, the study found that managers respond favorably to voluntary norms, rather than environmental legislation; stakeholder pressure seems to have a negative effect on managers’ perceptions of the competitive opportunity inherent in sustainability; and the availability of complementary resources encourages managers’ perceptions of sustainability as a competitive opportunity. These perceptions are behind the adoption of an environmental management scheme with a stronger focus on prevention strategies. The perception of this competitive advantage means that a manager is more likely to develop a proactive environmental management approach.

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Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Sustainability

Ivan Montiel, Loyola Marymount University, published “Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Sustainability: Separate Pasts, Common Futures” in the September 2008 issue of Organization and Environment. It was the most-frequently read article of July 2011 for Organization and Environment, based on calculations from Highwire-hosted articles. Most-read rankings are recalculated at the beginning of the month and are based on full-text and pdf views. Professor Montiel kindly provided the following responses to his article.

Who is the target audience for this article?

This literature review article is addressed to any scholar, student or practitioner interested in the fields of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Corporate Sustainability (CS), and/or Business Ethics and Environmental Management.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

This article analyzes the CSR and CS definitions and measurements used by management scholars between the 1970s and 2005.  These two constructs are often used interchangeably as synonymous both in management literature and in the business world.  My goal is to present how the definitions and measurements have evolved over time and to map out similarities and differences between both constructs.

How do you see this study influencing future practice?

I think this article can be a useful tool as a reference (or guide) to anyone (scholars, students, managers, or practitioners) interested in social and environmental issues as they pertain to corporations. This article also serves as an appropriate reading assignment for MBA students in the fields of Strategy, CSR, and Sustainability.

How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?

My stream of work is focused on corporate social and environmental strategies and sustainable development.  As one of my first articles, it helped me gain a better understanding of both CSR and CS. This paper also serves as a tool for those who seek a broad overview of these two fields of research.

How did your paper change during the review process?

Both the editor as well as the reviewers helped me refine my ideas and organize aspects of my research material found in various sections.  One of the sections I created after the first round of reviews was a discussion of different definitions of Environmental Management to complement the section on Corporate Sustainability.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?

I definitely learned a lot during the data collection stage (literature review) of this article. Literature review articles can sometimes be very time-consuming and therefore I find it important to maintain a well-organized database of definitions and variables from the onset of the project and for each of the articles reviewed.  Having such a database would prevent researchers from having to read the same article multiple times.

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