What enables metals ‘being’ ‘responsible’? An exploratory study on the enabling of organizational identity claims through a new sustainability standard

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Claims about resource sustainability abound in business communications. Yet, little do we know about how such claims are enabled amidst ongoing controversy of industrial and organizational benefits. Here, we propose to approach these claims through the concept of organizational sustainability identities (OSIs), which are claims serving as sustainable identifiers, and whose meanings are co-constructed by stakeholders. We assess how a new voluntary sustainability standard (VSS) of the metals industry is driven by a mission to enable an OSI for the product of its members, such as that their metal ‘is’ ‘responsible’, and how the members attain this through the structural conditions set by the new scheme. We present an exploratory case study that is based on data from a content analysis of standards texts and thematic analysis of stakeholder interviews. We find that VSS enable OSIs through a) an advanced performance rationale, b) the creation of a community of practice, c) members' perceptions of altered power relations among value chain stakeholders, and d) the facilitation of a platform to keep defining the ‘responsible metal’. We contribute to the discussions of VSS emergence and their effectiveness, for which we highlight the prolificness of the OSI concept and introduce a novel comparative method of provision type analysis to capture the developments of performance rationales.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103619
JournalResources Policy
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 01.06.2023

Bibliographical note

In further accordance with our findings from the first part of this study (cf. Fig. 3), we were also able to identify among the stakeholder accounts a gap about whether MSS fulfils all relevant levels of performance. Given the focus on how the industry performs, there is a gap towards providing detailed and tangible objectives of performance that allow for sustainability claims about product itself, meaning that despite an augmented performance rationale, this rationale does not support OSI directly. One stakeholder emphasizes this insight:The response to reputational issues of the industry by establishing a community of practice supports the possibility of using common identifiers, such as the OSI referring to one's product as a ‘responsible metal’ (see also Levy et al., 2016). Our findings also go here beyond previous insights on VSS, specifically about how these are platforms for deliberation and negotiation between stakeholders (Scherer and Palazzo, 2007; Schouten et al., 2012). We find in the assessed case of a newly emerging VSS, that the ability to deliberate on meanings of OSI in relation to business practices is an essential purpose of the initiative. Interview data suggests that multi-stakeholder deliberation about the meaning of the ‘responsible metal’ for the industry was a founding impetus for the initiative, and continues to be part of ongoing standard development. This ongoing development includes certified businesses contesting the value of MSS by proposing that, for some organizations in the value chain, applied practices go beyond what MSS can cover in its provisions resulting from stakeholder deliberation. Our insight, therefore, that MSS serves the industry as a discursive platform about the meanings of an OSI and related practices, is an essential feature of the value which the initiative adds to the standard field. We also consider the finding about perceived changing power relations among stakeholders in this light, as the discursive platform seems to assist reducing and balancing power of particular actors over the value chain, as well as their influence over the industry's reputation. This finding thus also adds to the sustainable supply chain literature, which usually considers buyer firms at the downstream end as leaders that bring sustainability to the further upstream partners of the value chain (e.g. Hoejmose et al., 2013; Imbrogiano and Steiner, 2022; Seuring and Müller, 2008; Villena and Gioia, 2018). MSS appears in our study also as a means to balance unidirectional power exertion, sustainability claims and pressures on parts of the value chain.We are thankful for Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH having financially supported the first part of the research.

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© 2023 The Authors

    Research areas

  • Sustainability Governance - Minerals and metals industry, Minerals and metals value chain, Organizational sustainability identities, Provision type analysis, Sustainability performance, Voluntary sustainability standards