This week’s articles look at research done in the methods of becoming more sustainable.

It’s not easy living a sustainable lifestyle
Providing people with information is considered an important first step in encouraging them to behave sustainably as it influences their consumption beliefs, attitudes and intentions. However, too much information can also complicate these processes and negatively affect behaviour. This is exacerbated when people have accepted the need to live a more sustainable lifestyle and attempt to enact its principles.

Drawing on interview data with people committed to sustainability, the authors identify the contentious role of knowledge in further disrupting sustainable consumption ideals. Here, knowledge is more than just information; it is familiarity and expertise (or lack of it) or how information is acted upon.

The authors find that more knowledge represents a source of dilemma, tension and paralysis. The data reveal a dark side to people’s knowledge, leading to a ‘self-inflicted sustainable consumption paradox’ in their attempts to lead a sustainable consumption lifestyle. Implications for policy interventions are discussed.

Cristina Longo, Avi Shankar and Peter Nuttall. 2019. “It’s Not Easy Living a Sustainable Lifestyle”: How Greater Knowledge Leads to Dilemmas, Tensions and Paralysis.
Journal of Business Ethics, 154(3), 759–779.


Leveraging partnerships for environmental change
Partnerships can play an important role in addressing environmental concerns and fostering environmental improvement. In this context, the authors argue that a more elaborate understanding is needed of how partners intend to reach beyond the partnership boundaries and target stakeholders at the firm, industry, supply-chain, or societal levels.

As environmental improvement is intertwined with the process of change, the authors build on the theory of planned change to explain how the focus on selected partnership mechanisms may help partners anticipate and overcome barriers when targeting environmental improvement at these different levels.

The authors test their framework, using a sample of 566 environmental partnerships formed in the USA, and provide rich insights into how partners intend to reach beyond the partnership boundaries. From a practical perspective, these insights may inform corporate managers’ decision to configure environmental partnerships in terms of the target group and suitable partnership mechanism.

From a theory perspective, the study helps develop a more systematic understanding of what partners intend to do and when (i.e. on the basis of which mechanism) partnerships may provide benefits in addressing level-specific change barriers. These insights provide a first step in positioning partnerships in the broader context of environmental change and encourage future research to move from the intentions to the actual outcomes.

Lea Stadtler and Haiying Lin. 2019. Leveraging Partnerships for Environmental Change: The Interplay Between the Partnership Mechanism and the Targeted Stakeholder Group.
Journal of Business Ethics, 154(3), 869–891.


The dark side of transformations in contemporary sustainability discourse
The notion of transformation is gaining traction in contemporary sustainability debates. New ways of theorising and supporting transformations are emerging and, so the argument goes, opening exciting spaces to (re)imagine and (re)structure radically different futures.

Yet, questions remain about how the term is being translated from an academic concept into an assemblage of normative policies and practices, and how this process might shape social, political, and environmental change. Motivated by these questions, the authors identify five latent risks associated with discourse that frames transformation as apolitical and/or inevitable. The authors refer to these risks as the dark side of transformation.

While the authors cannot predict the future of radical transformations towards sustainability, the authors suggest that scientists, policymakers, and practitioners need to consider such change in more inherently plural and political ways.

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Jessica Blythe, et al. 2018. The Dark Side of Transformation: Latent Risks in Contemporary Sustainability Discourse.
Antipode, 50(5), 1206-1223.


The influence of network exchange brokers on sustainable initiatives in organisational networks
Ethical sourcing and socially responsible purchasing is increasingly on the business agenda, but developing and implementing policy and practice across a global network of suppliers is challenging. The purpose of this paper is to expand theory on the nature of linkages between firms in a social network, specifically postulating how ties between organisations can be configured to facilitate development, diffusion, and adoption of sustainability initiatives.

The theory development provides a lens with which to view the influence of a firm’s structural embeddedness in its organisational social network on developing, diffusing and adopting sustainability initiatives. The focus is on brokers who in various structural alignments help bridge the focal firm’s sustainability initiatives with distant or disconnected stakeholders the focal firm is trying to reach. The brokers help the focal firm engage these stakeholders by sharing knowledge and information regarding sustainability initiatives and by incorporating localised needs into the development of the initiatives to facilitate better diffusion and adoption.

The theoretical contribution of this manuscript is a novel perspective on sustainability in organisational networks. This perspective allows for greater explanatory power regarding how organisations can achieve sustainable outcomes that meet a broad base of stakeholder needs and better facilitate sustainability initiatives across a diverse and expansive network.

Lance W. Saunders, Wendy L. Tate, George A. Zsidisin and Joe Miemczyk. 2019. The Influence of Network Exchange Brokers on Sustainable Initiatives in Organizational Networks.
Journal of Business Ethics, 154(3), 849–868.


The heterogeneity of board-level sustainability committees and CS performance
This paper explores an increasingly prevalent element of board-level commitment to sustainability. The authors propose a theoretical framework under which the existence and associated actions of board-level sustainability committees are motivated by shared value creation, where the interests of a diverse group of stakeholders are satisfied and sufficient profit is achieved.

Using hand-collected data, the authors find that sustainability committees are heterogeneous in focus and vary in their effectiveness. Specifically, the authors disaggregate the sustainability committee construct based on stakeholder group focus (i.e., community, employee, environment, and consumer/supplier) and find that associations between sustainability committees and performance outcomes are stronger when committees focused on a specific stakeholder group are paired with relevant performance outcomes.

The authors generally find that sustainability committees are effective at impacting relevant strengths, but do not mitigate relevant concerns. These results are consistent with the shared value framework, where committees both generate value by pursuing sustainability-related opportunities and protect value by monitoring, but not necessarily mitigating sustainability-related risks.

Univariate tests suggest that effective committees are also larger, more independent, and meet more frequently. Finally, the authors propose a new method to classify industries based on their sensitivity to certain stakeholder groups and find that the effectiveness of committees focused on specific stakeholders is more pronounced in industries that are sensitive to these stakeholders.

Jenna J. Burke, Rani Hoitash and Udi Hoitash. 2019. The Heterogeneity of Board-Level Sustainability Committees and Corporate Social Performance.
Journal of Business Ethics, 154(4), 1161–1186.


The role of sustainability in sustainability assurance
Research on sustainability assurance is still in its beginnings. One of the key questions in this field that also is of the highest practical relevance is concerned with the quality of the assurance process. However, a common understanding of assurance quality and how it should be measured is still missing.

The authors try to close this gap by building on the financial audit literature. The authors introduce a definition of assurance quality that comprises two key aspects: the depth of the assurance process and the breadth of the assurance statement. Based on prior research, the authors hypothesise that a firm’s sustainability performance is related to the depth of the assurance process, while the type of the assurance provider, more precisely the affiliation to the accounting profession, is related to the breadth of the assurance statement.

Results for a sample of 122 European firms reveal a negative relationship between sustainability performance and assurance process depth as well as between the affiliation to the accounting profession and assurance statement breadth. Thus, the authors find evidence that poor sustainability performers ask for in-depth assurance services, most likely as a means to enhance their internal sustainability-related processes and systems. Assurance providers that do not belong to the accounting profession in turn are associated with broader assurance statements.

Katrin Hummel, Christian Schlick and Matthias Fifka. 2019. The Role of Sustainability Performance and Accounting Assurors in Sustainability Assurance Engagements.
Journal of Business Ethics, 154(3), 733–757.


Perceived CSR and employees’ engagement in voluntary pro-environmental behaviour
Scholarly interest in employees’ voluntary pro-environmental behaviour has begun to emerge. While this research is beginning to shed light on the predictors of workplace pro-environmental behaviour, our understanding of the psychological mechanisms linking the various antecedents to employees’ environmentally responsible behaviour and the circumstances under which any such effects are enhanced and/or attenuated is incomplete.

The current study seeks to fill this gap by examining: (a) the effects of perceived corporate social responsibility on employees’ voluntary pro-environment behaviour; (b) an underlying mechanism that links CSR perceptions to these behaviours; and (c) a boundary condition to these relationships.

Data from 183 supervisor-subordinate dyads employed in large- and medium-sized casinos and hotels in Guangdong China and Macau revealed that employees’ corporate social responsibility perceptions indirectly affect their engagement in voluntary pro-environmental behaviour through organisational identification, and these effects are stronger for employees high in empathy.

Qing Tian and Jennifer L. Robertson. 2019. How and When Does Perceived CSR Affect Employees’ Engagement in Voluntary Pro-environmental Behavior?
Journal of Business Ethics, 155(2), 399–412.