How can the successful implementation of corporate social responsibility/sustainability in organisations be encouraged and developed? See this week’s articles for recent research in this area.

How does sustainability leadership affect firm performance?
Recent years have seen a significant increase in stakeholder pressure on firms to be not only economically sustainable but also from an environmental and social perspective.

Besides operational changes in practices and products companies have reacted toward this increased pressure from a strategic perspective through structural changes of their top management team (TMT). A recent addition to the TMT has been the appointment of the chief officer of corporate social responsibility (CSR). In this paper, the authors take a behavioural perspective and investigate how the employment of a chief officer of CSR to the TMT impact on firm performance. Specifically, the authors explore how certain characteristics of the newly appointed chief executive of CSR impact on a firm’s financial performance. The authors collected secondary, longitudinal data of listed companies in the United States.

Results indicate that appointing a chief executive of CSR does under certain conditions and characteristics result in financial performance benefits. Furthermore, the greatest financial performance benefits can be achieved if the appointee is female and has a CSR functional background.

Frank Wiengarten, Chris K. Y. Lo & Jessie Y. K. Lam. 2017. “How does Sustainability Leadership Affect Firm Performance? The Choices Associated with Appointing a Chief Officer of Corporate Social Responsibility”.

Journal of Business Ethics, 140 (3), 477-493.

Sustainable development, sustainability leadership and firm valuation across Europe
Sustainable development is nowadays a high priority for firms all over the world. Consequently, numerous firms have increased their social responsibility initiatives, reinforcing the credibility and trust of their stakeholders.

However, prior research about the relevance of sustainability leadership for the European investment community is scarce. In this context, the aim of this study is to examine whether sustainability leadership–proxied by membership of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index Europe–is value relevant for investors on the 10 major European stock markets over the 2001–2013 period.

The overall results reveal that there exist significant differences across markets. These findings are relevant especially for investors, but also for the managers of listed firms, market regulators and policymakers.

Maria del Mar Miralles-Quiros, Jose Luis Miralles-Quiros & Irene Guia Arraiano. 2017. Sustainable Development, Sustainability Leadership and Firm Valuation: Differences across Europe.

Business Strategy and the Environment 26, 1014–1028.

Unlocking women’s sustainability leadership potential
Although it appears that leadership roles in sustainable development have become more androgynous over time, it is unclear whether perceptions of barriers for women leaders in this context have actually changed.

This research examines the perceptions of male and female sustainable development activists regarding existing barriers but also their visions of the unique contributions women leaders bring to sustainable development when these barriers are overcome. During a two-year global study, the authors interviewed 120 women and men deeply involved in sustainable development from local to supranational levels and active in transnational and autonomous spaces to capture their insights on the topic.

Qualitative analyses revealed several themes: First, the results reflect overwhelming concerns with the patriarchal structures that are perceived to continue to constrain women from becoming leaders. Second, this study reveals complex and often hidden issues, such as the lack of self-confidence, which impedes perceived access to leadership positions, and differences among women that make it difficult to find blanket solutions. Finally, the authors discuss men and masculinity, topics which are often neglected in this context, highlighting the important role that male allies can play for women leaders in sustainable development.

Theoretically, the authors add new perspectives to existing literature on women as sustainable development leaders by focusing on the perceptions of individuals who actively try to change institutions and norms from within. From a practical perspective, this study is an important call to action for global women’s movements and male allies to work together to confront hierarchical domination and oppression and, importantly, not only change structures but also perceptions.

Shinbrot, Xoco A., Wilkins, Kate, Gretzel, Ulrike & Bowser, Gillian. 2019. Unlocking women’s sustainability leadership potential.

World Development, 119, 120-132.

Reflective pedagogies in sustainability leadership education
This study aims to examine the use of reflective pedagogies in sustainability leadership education by investigating two specific pedagogical tools—the Portfolio and Pod—employed by the Master’s in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability (MSLS) program at Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona, Sweden.

The study analysed data gathered from student surveys, teacher interviews, and staff reflections to determine the benefits and challenges faced by students and staff in implementing and engaging with these pedagogical tools. Benefits include the provision of distinct structures to guide student reflection towards individual skill development and the use of collective reflection to encourage generative dialogue between students and staff. This holds benefits for collaboration, self-awareness, understanding of multiple perspectives, and creating self-directed graduates. Staff and students also, however, suggest a number of challenges. These include the ‘constrictive’ nature of guided reflection and the emotional and mental load faced by staff in hosting and holding students through often challenging personal reflective processes.

For the potential of reflective pedagogies to be truly realised for Education for Sustainable Development in higher education institutions need to develop an understanding of the impacts that reflective pedagogies have on students and teachers and create institutional structures to support them.

Read this Open Access article online for free

Ayers, James, Bryant, Jayne & Missimer, Merlina. 2020. The Use of Reflective Pedagogies in Sustainability Leadership Education—A Case Study.

Sustainability,12(17), 6726

Leadership for sustainability: An Evolution of Leadership Ability
This article examines the existing confusion over the multiple leadership styles related to successful implementation of corporate social responsibility/sustainability in organisations.

The researchers find that the problem is the complex nature of sustainability itself. The authors posit that organisations are complex adaptive systems operating within wider complex adaptive systems, making the problem of interpreting just in what way an organisation is to be sustainable, an extraordinary demand on leaders. Hence, leadership for sustainability requires leaders of extraordinary abilities. These are leaders who can read and predict through complexity, think through complex problems, engage groups in dynamic adaptive organisational change and have the emotional intelligence to adaptively engage with their own emotions associated with complex problem solving.

Leaders and leadership is a key interpreter of how sustainability of the organisation ‘links’ to the wider systems in which the organisation sits, and executing that link well requires unusual leaders and leadership systems.

Louise Metcalf & Sue Benn. 2013. Leadership for sustainability: An Evolution of Leadership Ability.

Journal of Business Ethics, 112(3), 369-384.