What makes individuals behave in a sustainable manner? Personality traits, habit, work culture? Read this week’s research articles to find out more.
The role of core values and personality traits in sustainable behaviour
Understanding the individual-level factors associated with sustainable behaviour in the workplace is important to advance corporate ethics and sustainability efforts. In two studies, the authors simultaneously assess the role of core values and personality traits in relation to a broad set of sustainability actions, both beneficial and harmful.
Results from a student sample (N = 411) and then a national sample (N = 639) confirm that values and personality are distinct constructs that incrementally and differentially predict economic, social, and environmental outcomes. The authors successfully replicate previous findings pertaining to values and find that, controlling for values, the personality dimension of Honesty–Humility is the strongest negative predictor of harmful actions.
The analyses highlight the unique characteristics of values and personality and their distinct implications for ethical and sustainable management practice. By assessing values and personality together, the authors also contribute to more general efforts within psychology to develop an integrative view of the person.
Joel Marcus & Jason Roy. 2019. In Search of Sustainable Behaviour: The Role of Core Values and Personality Traits.
Journal of Business Ethics, 158(1), 63–79.
Shaping environmental behaviour on and off the job
The current literature on environmental sustainability acknowledges that habits are often shaped in private life and that experiences with environmental activities in a non-work setting positively influence environmental behaviours in the work domain. However, the conditions that lead individuals to behave responsibly at work based on their environmental commitment outside the workplace remain poorly understood.
The authors address this issue by pursuing two objectives. First, the authors outline archetypes of environmental behaviour on and off the job and classify individuals into four profiles: Apathetic, Conformist, Citizen and Enthusiast. Second, the authors examine a set of organisational and psychological variables that explain the likelihood of behaving in accordance with the principles of an archetype in terms of pro-environmental behaviour at work.
The findings show that supervisory support, job self-efficacy and affective commitment increase the likelihood of being green at work but that environmental management practices do not. The results differ according to the profiles identified, allowing a better understanding of employees’ commitment to environmental sustainability. The authors conclude the paper by discussing the theoretical and managerial implications of the findings.
Pascal Paillé, Nicolas Raineri & Olivier Boiral. 2019. Environmental Behavior On and Off the Job: A Configurational Approach.
Journal of Business Ethics, 158(1), 253–268.
Professionals and their mental models in making ethical decisions
The role and ethics of professionals in business and economics have been questioned, especially after the financial crisis of 2008. Some suggest a reorientation using concepts such as craftsmanship.
In this article, the author will explore professional practices within the context of behavioural theory and business ethics. The author suggests that scholars of behavioural theory need a strategy to deal with normative questions to meet their ambition of practical relevance. Evidence-based management (EBMgt), a recent behavioural approach, may assist business ethics scholars in understanding how professionals infer ‘evidence’ to make decisions.
For a professional, ethical issues are an integral part of decision-making at critical moments. As reflective practitioners, they develop insights related to ethical concerns when collecting and assessing evidence within decision-making processes.
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Frank Jan de Graaf. 2019. Ethics and Behavioural Theory: How Do Professionals Assess Their Mental Models?
Journal of Business Ethics, 157(4), 933–947.
CEO compensation and sustainability reporting
Companies are expected to monitor sustainable behaviour to help improve performance, enhance reputation and increase chances of survival. This paper examines the relationship between sustainability committees and independent external assurance on the inclusion of sustainability-related targets in CEO compensation contracts.
Using a sample of UK FTSE350 companies for 2011–2015 and controlling for governance and firm characteristics, the authors find both board-level sustainability committees and sustainability reporting assurance have a positive and significant association with the inclusion of sustainability terms in compensation contracts.
However, there is no joint impact between the voluntary use of independent external assurance and the role of sustainability committees on CEO compensation contracts. Sustainability-related terms in compensation contracts are more likely to be included, and higher compensation is likely to be paid, when assurance is provided by a Big4 firm and when a company operates in a sustainability-sensitive industry.
The findings highlight the potential of assured sustainability reports in assessing CEO performance in sustainability-related tasks, especially when sustainability metrics are included in CEO compensation contracts. Overall, the results suggest companies that invest in voluntary assurance are more likely to monitor management’s behaviour and be concerned about the achievement of sustainability goals.
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Habiba Al-Shaer & Mahbub Zaman. 2019. CEO Compensation and Sustainability Reporting Assurance: Evidence from the UK.
Journal of Business Ethics, 158(1), pp 1–20.
Fear of failure in sustainable entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurs who start a business to serve both self-interests and collective interests by addressing unmet social and environmental needs are usually referred to as sustainable entrepreneurs. Compared with regular entrepreneurs, the authors argue that sustainable entrepreneurs face specific challenges when establishing their businesses owing to the discrepancy between the creation and appropriation of private value and social value.
The authors hypothesise that when starting a business, sustainable entrepreneurs (1) feel more hampered by perceived barriers, such as the institutional environment and (2) have a different risk attitude and perception than regular entrepreneurs. The authors use two waves of the Flash Eurobarometer survey on entrepreneurship (2009 and 2012), which contains information on start-up motivations, start-up barriers, and risk perceptions of approximately 3000 (prospective) business owners across 33 countries.
The authors find that sustainable entrepreneurs indeed perceive more institutional barriers in terms of a lack of financial, administrative, and informational support at business start-up than regular entrepreneurs. Further, no significant differences between sustainable and regular entrepreneurs are found in terms of their risk attitudes or perceived financial risks. However, sustainable entrepreneurs are more likely to fear personal failure than regular entrepreneurs, which is explained by their varied and complex stakeholder relations.
These insights may serve as an important signal for both governments and private capital providers in enhancing the institutional climate.
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Brigitte Hoogendoorn, Peter van der Zwan & Roy Thurik. 2019. Sustainable Entrepreneurship: The Role of Perceived Barriers and Risk.
Journal of Business Ethics, 157(4), 1133–1154.
The normative paradox of promoting responsible business education
The authors identify a normative paradox of responsible management education. Business educators aim to promote social values and develop ethical habits and socially responsible mindsets through education, but they attempt to do so with theories that have normative underpinnings and create actual normative effects that counteract their intentions.
The authors identify a limited conceptualisation of freedom in economic theorising as a cause of the paradox. Economic theory emphasises individual freedom and understands this as the freedom to choose from available options (a view that can be characterised as quantitative, negative freedom). However, conceptualising individuals as profit-maximising actors neglects their freedom to reflect on the purposes and goals of their actions (a qualitative, potential view of freedom).
The authors build on the work of pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, who distinguishes between habitualised and creative problem-solving behaviours (theory of action), conceptualises knowledge construction as a process of interdependent scientific social inquiry (epistemology), and understands actors as having the freedom to determine what kind of people they wish to be (ethics). The authors apply pragmatist theory to business education and suggest equipping students with a plurality of theories, supplementing neoclassical economics with other economic perspectives (e.g., Post-Keynesian, Marxist, ecological, evolutionary, and feminist economics) and views from other disciplines (e.g., sociology, psychology, and political science) on economic behaviour.
Moreover, the authors suggest putting students into learning situations that require practical problem solution through interdependent social inquiry (e.g., using cases and real-world business projects), encouraging ethical reflection. In doing so, the authors contribute by linking the problematic conceptions of freedom identified in economic theorising to the debate on responsible management education.
The authors conceptualise a pragmatist approach to management education that explicitly re-integrates the freedom to discursively reflect on the individual and societal purpose of business activity and thereby makes existing tools and pedagogies useful for bringing potential freedom back into business.
Dirk C. Moosmayer, Sandra Waddock, Long Wang, Matthias P. Hühn, Claus Dierksmeier and Christopher Gohl. 2019. Leaving the Road to Abilene: A Pragmatic Approach to Addressing the Normative Paradox of Responsible Management Education.
Journal of Business Ethics,157(4), 913–932.
Special issue: Values and mind-sets in sustainable business practice
These authors edit a Special Issue (SI) of the Journal of Business Ethics that explores the changes in values and mind-sets that are required for new, sustainable and ethical business models and consumption practices to flourish. Notable manifestations of efforts to embody an ethical perspective within business practices are seen in recent attempts to rethink business models (Bocken et al. 2014; Linder and Williander 2015) and to develop hybrid organisations (e.g., social enterprises) and collaborations (Defourny and Nyssens 2006) more likely to balance economic, social and environmental needs.
Changes in consumption range from selecting more ethical and sustainable options, e.g. fair trade and renewable energy (De Pelsmacker and Janssens 2007; Bang et al. 2000) and slowing the acquisition and replacement of goods (Cooper 2005, 2010) to more radical shifts in lifestyles such as voluntary simplicity (Marchand et al. 2010; Shaw and Riach 2011). It is widely recognised that embedded practices and beliefs constrain change, but there is a keenness to investigate the emergence of business and consumption practices that shift away from traditional resource-depleting forms of capitalism.
Papers in this special issue illustrate the appetite to generate this insight by examining diverse forms of enterprise and consumption, evidencing efforts to embed more responsible and sustainable approaches. Though the papers vary in the conceptual lenses that they adopt, the trend towards a process-based perspective of valuation is evident among them. Hence, these authors start their editorial by articulating some of the changing conceptions of value and the potential to explore how evolving mind-sets and mental models can influence responsible and sustainable business.
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Mollie Painter, Sally Hibbert and Tim Cooper. 2019. The Development of Responsible and Sustainable Business Practice: Value, Mind-Sets, Business-Models.
Journal of Business Ethics, 157(4), 885–891.