Motivations, Organizational Units, and Management Tools: Taking Stock of the Why, Who, and How of Implementing Corporate Sustainability Management

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In spite of growing interest in companies’ contribution to sustainable development, the implementation of corporate sustainability, i.e. the integration of environmental, social, and economic issues, is not well understood. This cumulative PhD thesis aims to answer the research question whether sustainability management is only a transitory management fashion, or whether an effective implementation is actually taking place. The thesis consists of five papers, which are either published in refereed academic journals, accepted to be published, or planned to be resubmitted. The papers analyze three important elements of the implementation of corporate sustainability: motivation (why?), organizational units (who?) and management tools (how?). Combining these three elements supplies a framework for discussing the implementation of corporate sustainability management.
The results, which are mostly based on surveys of large German companies, reveal that companies predominantly manage corporate sustainability because they seek legitimacy, rather than a competitive advantage, and because they follow acknowledged standards, guidelines, or ratings (institutional isomorphism) – possibly out of uncertainty on how to best handle a concept so complex and novel. Public relations is the organizational unit engaging in sustainability management most strongly, whereas accounting, finance, and management control engage the least. Hence, corporate sustainability is currently not implemented as a cross-functional approach. Yet, there is indication of a growing strategic relevance of corporate sustainability. This is also reflected in the awareness and application of sustainability management tools, which have been increasing continuously between 2002 and 2010 – especially in terms of integrative tools serving to balance environmental, social, and economic issues. Furthermore, market incentives are gaining in importance over time.
The thesis relates these results to management fashion theory. Although there is some indication that sustainability management might in fact be a transitory fashion, an analysis over time reveals an ongoing development of the elements analyzed. Thereby, the thesis demonstrates that corporate sustainability management can be considered more than a management fashion. One implication of the analysis is that both companies and researchers are called upon to foster the implementation of corporate sustainability, with positive incentives, e.g. by markets and consumers, turning out to be promising starting points. As opposed to pressure and expectations by stakeholders, focusing on opportunities might be more suitable to induce actual change of processes, products, services, or even business models in companies. In conclusion, the author hopes to make a significant contribution to the discussion on the implementation of corporate sustainability and to stimulate the development of new theoretical approaches.
Translated title of the contributionMotivation, Organisationsbereiche und Managementmethoden.: Eine Bestandsaufnahme des Warum, Wer und Wie der Umsetzung unternehmerischen Nachhaltigkeitsmanagements
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLüneburg
Number of pages157
Publication statusPublished - 2013