This week we look at what drives companies to engage in sustainably responsible activites, or not…

Ethical motivations behind business cases and corporate engagement with sustainability 
This paper explores links between different ethical motivations and kinds of corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities to distinguish between different types of business cases with regard to sustainability.

The design of CSR and corporate sustainability can be based on different ethical foundations and motivations. This paper draws on the framework of Roberts (Organization 10:249–265, 2003) which distinguishes four different ethical management versions of CSR.

The first two ethical motivations are driven either by a reactionary concern for the short-term financial interests of the business, or reputational, driven by a narcissistic concern to protect the firm’s image.

The third responsible motivation works from the inside-out and seeks to embed social and environmental concerns within the firm’s performance management systems, and the fourth, a collaborative motivation, works to bring the outside in and seeks to go beyond the boundaries of the firm to create a dialogue with those who are vulnerable to the unintended consequences of corporate conduct.

Management activities based on these different ethical motivations to CSR and sustainability result in different operational activities for corporations working towards sustainability and thus have very different effects on how the company’s economic performance is influenced. Assuming that corporate managers are concerned about creating business cases for their companies to survive and prosper in the long term, this paper raises the question of how different ethical motivations for designing CSR and corporate sustainability relate to the creation of different business cases.

The paper concludes by distinguishing four different kinds of business cases with regard to sustainability: reactionary and reputational business cases of sustainability, and responsible and collaborative business cases for sustainability.

Stefan Schaltegger and Roger Burritt. 2018. Business Cases and Corporate Engagement with Sustainability: Differentiating Ethical Motivations. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 147(2), 241–259.


Motivation behind retail chains’ CSR communication 
This study examines determinants of retail chains’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication on their web pages. The theoretical foundation for the study is signalling theory, which suggests that firms will communicate about their CSR efforts when this is profitable for them and when such communication makes it possible for outsiders to distinguish good from bad performers.

Based on this theory, the author develops hypotheses about retail chains’ CSR signalling. The hypotheses are tested in a sample of 208 retail chains in the Norwegian market. As hypothesised, foreign chains, chains using private brands, and vertically integrated chains are more likely to signal, but there is no relationship between pricing and signalling. In further analysis using chains’ CSR memberships and certifications as the measure of signals, only the relationship between organisational form and signalling is replicated. In total, the findings give partial support to signalling theory.

Jakob Utgård. 2018. Retail Chains’ Corporate Social Responsibility Communication. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 147(2), 385–400.


Political ideology, CSR mindset and CSR strategy in Chinese managers 
The literature on antecedents of corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies of firms has been predominately content driven. Informed by the managerial sense-making process perspective, the authors develop a contingency theoretical framework explaining how political ideology of managers affects the choice of CSR strategy for their firms through their CSR mindset.

These scholars also explain to what extent the outcome of this process is shaped by the firm’s internal institutional arrangements and external factors impacting on the firm. The researchers develop and test several hypotheses using data collected from 129 Chinese managers.

The results show that managers with a stronger socialist ideology are likely to develop a mindset favouring CSR, which induces the adoption of a proactive CSR strategy. The CSR mindset mediates the link between socialist ideology and CSR strategy. The strength of the relationship between the CSR mindset and the choice of CSR strategy is moderated by customer response to CSR, industry competition, the role of government, and CSR-related managerial incentives.

Fuming Jiang, Tatiana Zalan, Herman H. M. Tse and Jie Shen. 2018. Mapping the Relationship Among Political Ideology, CSR Mindset, and CSR Strategy: A Contingency Perspective Applied to Chinese Managers. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 147(2), 419–444.


Bankers bashing back: Amoral CSR justifications 
The finance industry is required to respond to public criticism of perceived immoral behaviour. To create legitimacy, financial firms not only undertake corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, but also support such activities with precise justifications.

In this paper, the author studies CSR justifications appearing in annual and sustainability reports from the Swedish finance industry. The objective is to investigate the ethical character of CSR justifications in the finance industry. This is an interesting topic, both because CSR carries ethical meaning and because CSR justifications play a role in actual business activities.

A secondary aim of this article is to test whether decoupled corporate claims about CSR can be recoupled, which would potentially help companies to act responsibly.

The observed CSR justifications avoided the fundamental question of whether the finance industry does in fact have responsibilities, and they did not manifest awareness of stakeholders’ demands for CSR. Seemingly value-based CSR activities often lacked ethical justifications. These characteristics do not harmonise with the responsible image that the contemporary finance industry wants to portray. The counterintuitive finding is that amorality prevails in the justifications that banks give for undertaking CSR activities.

Peter Norberg. 2018. Bankers Bashing Back: Amoral CSR Justifications. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 147(2), 401–418.


Why don’t some companies report on sustainability?
We study companies that do not produce a sustainability report in contexts where institutionalisation is assumed. Based on a careful analysis of interaction patterns between non-reporting companies, sustainability interest groups, and peer organisations, the authors find patterns of discursive and material isomorphism that suggest sustainability reporting is confined to an issues-based field, rather than spreading as an institutionalised practice across the business community.

The writers argue that the issues-based field exerts only weak pressure for sustainability reporting, and that encouraging more firms to report rests on understanding what influences companies to interact more widely to become part of this field.

Colin Higgins, Wendy Stubbs and Markus Milne. 2018.  Is Sustainability Reporting Becoming Institutionalised? The Role of an Issues-Based Field. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 147(2), 309–326.


Unmasking corporate sustainability at the project level 
Due to their consolidated nature, corporate sustainability reports often mask the evolution of organisations’ sustainability initiatives. Thus, to more fully understand the environmental performance of an organisation, it is essential to examine the experiences of specific projects and how they relate to corporate sustainability.

Based on case studies of green projects in four different organisations, the researchers find that it is difficult to determine the environmental impact of a project a priori, even in cases where environmental considerations are included as part of the initial project scope. Instead, the decision to integrate environmentally favourable elements into projects is a dynamically occurring interaction between competing institutional logics and organisational identities, which create windows of opportunity for individual agency.

During these windows, individuals may engage in reinforcing micro-processes that support traditional practices, or invoke enabling micro-processes to facilitate green decision-making, consistent with ecosystem logics. The process model developed in this paper provides a new perspective on the temporal and contextual dimensions of environmental championship behaviours, and sheds light on otherwise puzzling results such as why organisations with strong environmental orientations continue to struggle with delivering projects with strong positive environmental impacts.

Jacqueline Corbett, Jane Webster and Tracy A. Jenkin. 2018. Unmasking Corporate Sustainability at the Project Level: Exploring the Influence of Institutional Logics and Individual Agency. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 147(2), 261–286.


Can stakeholders pressures encourage greenwashing? 
This paper analyses the determinants underlying the internalisation of proactive environmental management proposed by certifiable environmental management systems (EMSs) such as those set out in ISO 14001 and the European Management and Auditing Scheme (EMAS). Using a study based on 232 usable questionnaires from EMAS-registered organisations, the researchers explored the influence of institutional pressures from different stakeholders and the role of corporate strategy in the “substantial” versus “symbolic” integration of environmental practices.

The results highlighted that although institutional pressures generally strengthen the internalisation of proactive environmental practices, the influence of stakeholders can either support the integration of these practices or encourage their superficial adoption. For example, while pressure from suppliers and shareholders contribute to corporate greening, pressure from customers and industrial associations tend to encourage greenwashing (i.e., the superficial and misleading adoption of environmental practices).

Product quality-oriented strategies also positively influence EMS internalisation. The paper sheds light on the institutional complexity underlying the substantial versus symbolic implementation of environmental practices, and questions the dominant isomorphic view of EMS adoption. The paper also bridges the gap between complementary approaches on corporate greening, notably neo-institutional and stakeholder theories.

Francesco Testa, Olivier Boiral and Fabio Iraldo. 2018. Internalisation of Environmental Practices and Institutional Complexity: Can Stakeholders Pressures Encourage Greenwashing? 
Journal of Business Ethics, 147(2), 287–307.