diagram of sustainability

This week’s research tidbits provide some practical considerations on how to balance the tensions arising when incorporating sustainability principles in organisations.

How businesses manage tensions in pursuit of sustainability
Management of organisational tensions can facilitate the simultaneous advancement of economic, social, and environmental priorities. The approach is based on managers identifying and managing tensions between the three priorities, by employing one of the three strategic responses.

Although recent work has provided a theoretical basis for such tension acknowledgment and management, there is a dearth of empirical studies. The authors interviewed 32 corporate sustainability managers across 25 forestry and wood-products organisations in Australia. Study participants were divided into two groups: (1) those considered effective at corporate sustainability and (2) a status-quo group.

Contrary to current theory, the findings showed that acknowledgment of organisational tensions was widespread in the Australian forestry and wood-products industry and not limited to those managers who are effective at managing corporate sustainability. What differed was the degree to which managers did something about the perceived tensions—with the effective group more consistently acting to manage and resolve paradoxical scenarios.

The findings suggest that existing theoretical constructs of tension management may not adequately capture the individual-level complexity involved with managing tensions in practice.

Jay Joseph, Helen Borland, Marc Orlitzky & Adam Lindgreen. 2020. Seeing Versus Doing: How Businesses Manage Tensions in Pursuit of Sustainability.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Journal of Business Ethics, 164(2), 349–370.

Review of multinational enterprise strategies for addressing sustainability
This paper examines the growing number of publications on multinational enterprise management of sustainability issues. Based on an integrative literature review and thematic analysis, the paper analyses and synthesises the current state of knowledge about main issues arising.

Key issues identified include the following: choice of sustainability strategies; management of the views of headquarters towards sustainability; local cultural sustainability perspectives in developed and developing host countries; MNEs with home in developing/emerging countries; and resource availability for implementing sustainability initiatives.

Findings indicate that although the literature is tending towards growing acceptance about sustainability and its challenges most researchers have focused on corporate social responsibility and investigate their own niche problem, industry, and country, using their own chosen theory and do not consider the need for consolidation and integration of social, environmental and economic performance.

Avenues for future research are identified which will provide a means for the ethical foundations of theory and practice to be improved.

Roger Leonard Burritt, Katherine Leanne Christ, Hussain Gulzar Rammal & Stefan Schaltegger. 2020. Multinational Enterprise Strategies for Addressing Sustainability: the Need for Consolidation.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Journal of Business Ethics, 164(2), 389–410.

An ecosystemic framework for business sustainability
This article introduces an ecosystemic framework to foster innovation for business sustainability. The authors emphasise the idea of systemic thinking in which the business operates as a system similar to a living organism.

In this framework, businesses impact the environment in which they operate in a fluid, dynamic, and interdependent way. This approach contrasts with the linear approach commonly used in business and other disciplines, which tries to explain what might cause an action or reaction but ignores any feedback effect between the subsequent action and its cause.

This article offers practical solutions and guidance for business leaders to incorporate complexity science into creating sustainable businesses.

Sun, Jiazhe, Wu, Shunan & Yang, Kaizhong. 2018. An ecosystemic framework for business sustainability.

Business Horizons, 61(1), 59-72.

Knowledge risks inherent in business sustainability
Since the connection between business sustainability and knowledge risks has not been established in the literature so far, this paper provides a conceptual framework to demonstrate the possible impact of various knowledge risks on business sustainability and offers potential ways to manage and overcome these risks.

The aim of this conceptual paper is to address two main questions: What are the potential effects of knowledge risks on the three dimensions of sustainability in organisations? and How can organisations cope with knowledge risks to become truly sustainable?

Taking insights from both the theories of knowledge management and business sustainability, it proposes a research agenda both for researchers and practitioners.

Susanne Durst & Malgorzata Zieba. 2019. Knowledge risks inherent in business sustainability.

Journal of Cleaner Production, 251, article 119670

Voluntary engagement in environmental projects
An important question in the business ethics literature concerns organisational response in the aftermath of an unethical business practice. This study examines factors affecting firms’ decision to take reparative action in the aftermath of an environmental violation.

Specifically, the authors investigate environmental violators’ decision to undertake a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP), which is an initiative that promotes restorative justice. To settle an environmental violation, the United States’ environmental regulator allows offenders the option of either paying the full penalty or a reduced sum while spending additional effort and engaging in an environmental project.

As predicted, the authors find that firms with poorer past environmental performance and greater shareholder environmental activism are more likely to engage and invest in a SEP. Additionally, there is a stronger association between shareholder activism and SEP investment when firms have poorer past environmental performance.

The findings inform regulators, stakeholders, and business ethics researchers on the factors that lead firms to undertake reparative action following unethical business practices.

Gladys Lee & Xinning Xiao. 2020. Voluntary Engagement in Environmental Projects: Evidence from Environmental Violators.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Journal of Business Ethics, 164(2), 325–348.

“Green” human resource practices enable environmental and organisational performance
Despite the theoretically important role of green human resource management (HRM), relatively little research has been discovered so far about this role particularly in the Oil and Gas industry.

The authors contribute to fill this gap by developing and testing a set of hypotheses to provide a first attempt at analyzing the antecedents and outcomes of green HRM practices in the Qatari Oil and Gas industry. Data were collected from 144 managers and analyzed using Partial least squares (PLS). The analysis shows that both top management support and internal environmental orientation positively influence green HRM, which in turn has a significant positive impact on environmental performance.

The results also provide evidence for the mediating effect of green HRM on the links between both top management support and internal environmental orientation, and environmental performance. Moreover, environmental performance is found to positively influence organisational performance. The implications of these results for theory and HRM practices in the Oil and Gas industry are taken into consideration.

Shatha M. Obeidat, Anas A. Al Bakri & Said Elbanna. 2020. Leveraging “Green” Human Resource Practices to Enable Environmental and Organizational Performance: Evidence from the Qatari Oil and Gas Industry.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Journal of Business Ethics, 164(2), 371–388.

Sustainability: Issues of scale, care and consumption
This paper investigates how consumers interested in sustainability are affected by conflicts in caring and scale. Contrasting previous emphasis relating scale to production, the paper illustrates how scale influences consumption and social reproduction, including consumers’ more concrete preoccupations with caring about and for themselves, significant others and, not least, the planet.

The paper makes three contributions to the nascent management literature in this field. First, it illustrates how scalar logics at urban through to global levels influence seemingly micro-social routine consumption decisions.

Second, it develops an approach that emphasizes the scale-sensitivity of consumer decision-making around sustainability and the conflicts inherent in caring.

Third, it addresses critiques of current studies preoccupied with processes of production rather than social reproduction and illustrates the critical role that consumption plays in the social construction of scales.

Based on these findings, we argue that policy promoting sustainability may be misplaced in that it does not sufficiently acknowledge how people’s consumption and caring decisions are nested in relational and spatial contexts.

Goworek, Helen et al. 2018. Sustainability: Issues of Scale, Care and Consumption.

British Journal of Management, 29(2), 299-316.