Research tidbits this week looks at what’s involved in building an effective sustainable reputation.

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.


The effects of CSR on customer loyalty in cooperative versus commercial banks
The marketplace has seen significant growth in the demand for ‘ethical’ behaviour, and banks are seeking to leverage customers’ perception in order to build a sustainable competitive advantage.

In consequence, the concepts of corporate social responsibility and corporate reputation are of vital concern for academics and managers in terms of their potential impact on customers. This study seeks to contribute to the literature by examining the mediating role of corporate reputation on the relationship between perceived corporate social responsibility (conceptualised as a formative second-order formative construct) and customer loyalty.

The study also takes into consideration the role played by bank type in the mediation effect. To achieve this aim, a study was performed comprising 572 personal surveys in the Basque Country. The results showed that corporate reputation partially mediated the relation between corporate social responsibility and customer loyalty.

On the other hand, bank type is shown not to moderate the mediation effect. The results have important implications for practitioners wishing to manage their relations with customers.

Izaskun Agirre Aramburu and Irune Gómez Pescador. 2019. The Effects of Corporate Social Responsibility on Customer Loyalty: The Mediating Effect of Reputation in Cooperative Banks Versus Commercial Banks in the Basque Country.
Journal of Business Ethics, 154(3), 701–719.


The influence of network exchange brokers on sustainable initiatives in organisational networks 
Ethical sourcing and socially responsible purchasing are 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.


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.



Do CSR messages resonate? Public reactions to firms’ CSR efforts on social media
We posit a key goal of firms’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts is to influence reputation through carefully crafted communicative practices. This trend has accelerated with the rise of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, which are essentially public message networks that organisations are leveraging to engage with concerned audiences.

Given the large number of messages sent on these sites, only some will be effective and achieve broad public resonance. Building on signalling theory, this paper asks whether and how messages conveying CSR-related topics resonate with the public and, if so, which CSR topics and signal qualities are most effective.

The authors test their hypotheses using data on public reactions to Fortune 500 companies’ CSR-focused Twitter feeds, using the retweeting (sharing) of firms’ messages as a proxy for public resonance. The authors find resonance is positively associated with messages that convey CSR topics such as the environment or education, those that make the topic explicit through use of hashtags, and those that tap into existing social movement discussions.

Gregory D. Saxton, Lina Gomez, Zed Ngoh, Yi-Pin Lin and Sarah Dietrich. 2019. Do CSR Messages Resonate? Examining Public Reactions to Firms’ CSR Efforts on Social Media. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 155(2), 359–377.


Won’t get fooled again: Internal and external CSR ECO-labeling 
Although most consumers are positive about socially responsible companies, in order to benefit from CSR efforts, effective and clear CSR communication is important. However, due to the constantly rising profusion of eco-labels, based on either own claims from the organisation or claims made by an external third party, consumers may encounter difficulties in identifying truly responsible firms, which could result in less effective CSR initiatives, even for those responsible firms.

Therefore, building on attribution theory, this study seeks to identify how uncertified internal CSR claims and external third-party CSR labels should be used in order to deter greenwashing and increase positive consumer evaluations. Within a 3 (external third-party CSR label: positive vs. negative vs. no label) × 2 (uncertified internal CSR claim: present vs. absent) design, respondents are exposed to different coffee product packages measuring their attitude toward the brand, corporate credibility, purchase intention, and scent perception, as well as perceived attributional CSR motives.

Overall, findings indicate that especially an external CSR label affects consumer responses toward the firm. Moreover, perceived CSR motives serve as a mediator between an external CSR label and corporate credibility and brand attitude, respectively. These findings warrant further consideration of introducing an external multilevel rating systems by governmental law.

Read this Open Access article for free online

Jordy F. Gosselt, Thomas van Rompay and Laura Haske. 2019. Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Effects of Internal and External CSR ECO-Labeling. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 155(2), 413–424.


CSR and growth opportunity: Real Estate Investment Trusts 
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) involvement and disclosure has been becoming increasingly popular among US public firms, including those that qualify as real estate investment trusts (REITs). This paper aims to discover the relationship between CSR involvement and potential determinants such as growth opportunities, profitability, visibility, and agency costs.

Types of CSR involvement are assessed in terms of environmental, community, and governance disclosures and are quantified using word count from the company’s voluntary disclosure. The results support the hypothesis that CSR has a strategic element and that REITs have greater CSR involvement when they have greater growth and investment opportunities.

When the type of disclosure is broken into subcategories, the results show that not all dimensions of CSR are alike: environmental, community, and governance CSR disclosures appear to be motivated by different sets of incentives and reasons.

Kevin C. H. Chiang, Gregory J. Wachtel and Xiyu Zhou. 2019. Corporate Social Responsibility and Growth Opportunity: The Case of Real Estate Investment Trusts. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 155(2), 463–478.