Corporate Sustainability and the Individual

Corporate Sustainability and the Individual:

Understanding What Drives Sustainability Professionals as Change Agents

Paper by Wayne Visser and Andrew Crane

Abstract

This paper looks at what motivates sustainability managers to devote their time and energies to addressing social, environmental and ethical issues. It is rooted in the literature on the role of individuals as change agents for corporate sustainability, in particular in their capacity as environmental or social ‘champions’. The paper presents in-depth research among sustainability managers, providing a rich, nuanced understanding of different types of sustainability change agents. It identifies four such types – Experts, Facilitators, Catalysts and Activists – and uncovers the pivotal role of values, inspiration, expertise, empowerment, strategic thinking and social contribution as sources of meaning for these purpose-inspired managers. The findings deepen our understanding of the psychological dimensions of corporate sustainability management, and provide a useful tool for improving individual and team performance, enhancing recruitment and retention of sustainability talent, and developing more effective organisational leadership for sustainability.

Keywords

corporate social responsibility, corporate sustainability, change agents, environmental champions, meaning in life, psychology, sustainability managers, values 

Introduction

As social, environmental, and ethical issues like persistent poverty, climate change, financial market instability and economic globalisation continue to move up the geo-political and economic agendas, corporate sustainability is increasingly touted as a timely and necessary response by business (Dunphy et al., 2003; Shrivastava, 1995; Zadek, 2004). Viewed in this way, sustainability can be thought of as a conceptual framework and practical mechanism for creating change that results in improved social, environmental and ethical conditions (Van Marrewijk, 2003).

Attention to corporate sustainability has tended to focus on how change can be achieved at the organisational level (Benn, et al. 2006; Dunphy et al., 2003). By contrast, comparatively little research exists on the role of the individual as a change agent for sustainability (Sharma, 2002). What literature there is on corporate sustainability and the individual level typically focuses on four areas: 1) The importance of values congruence between managers/employees and organisational values (Fryxell and Lo, 2003; Hemingway and Maclagan, 2004; Van Marrewijk and Werre, 2002); 2) the instrumental association between individual concern, knowledge and commitment and corporate social and environmental responsiveness (Bansal and Roth, 2000; Keogh and Polonsky, 1998); 3) narrative accounts by sustainability managers of corporate ‘greening’ (Fineman, 1997; Georg and Fussel, 2000; Starkey and Crane, 2003); and 4) the role of sustainability managers as champions, entrepreneurs or agents of change in their organisations (Andersson and Bateman, 2000; Prakash, 2001; Walley and Stubbs, 1999).

This literature brings insights to our understanding of individuals within a corporate sustainability context by highlighting the importance of ‘intangibles’ like values, attitudes and beliefs in driving corporate sustainability, the crucial role of education and awareness in achieving behaviour change, the scope and necessity for managerial discretion in making change happen, the power of corporate culture in shaping a consensus ‘story’ on sustainability, and the pivotal role of leadership support for sustainability. However, the literature also shows certain limitations. We still know little about what drives individuals to be sustainability managers, how this affects such individuals, and what they seek to achieve from their actions on a personal level. Moreover, the notion of sustainability champions …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/making-a-difference”]Page[/button] Making a Difference (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.cpsl.cam.ac.uk”]Link[/button] Social Science Research Network (website)

Cite this article

Visser, W. & Crane, A. (2010) Corporate Sustainability and the Individual: Understanding What Drives Sustainability Professionals as Change Agents, SSRN Working Paper Series, 25 February 2010. First published on SSRN at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1559087

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CSR Change Agents

CSR Change Agents:

Experts, Facilitators, Catalysts and Activists

Article by Wayne Visser

In research conducted for my PhD on CSR, I identified four types of Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility (CSR) change agents: Experts, Facilitators, Catalysts and Activists.

Each type represents a constellation of attributes. It is expected that any individual CSR change agent will embody elements of all of these types, but that the relative influence of each type will differ per individual. Hence, the dominant type can be thought of as a centre of gravity for each CSR change agent’s work, i.e. the mode of operating in which they feel most comfortable, fulfilled or satisfied …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2008) CSR Change Agents: Experts, Facilitators, Catalysts and Activists, CSR International Inspiration Series, No. 2.

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CSR Change Agency

CSR Change Agency:

Making a Difference

Paper by Wayne Visser

In the face of unprecedented global challenges like financial market instability, persistent poverty and climate change, can individuals make a difference? This article looks at what motivates people to devote their time and energies to addressing social, environmental and ethical issues.

In particular, it shows how corporate sustainability and responsibility (CSR) can provide a powerful way to address what I called in a previous article for Ethical Corporation (‘Five corporate sustainability challenges that remain unmet’, EC 31, July 2004), the ‘existential gap’, i.e. the lack of a deeper sense of personal meaning and job satisfaction felt by many employees today.

A survey a few years ago by the London PR agency, Fish Can Sing, already hinted at the extent of the problem. They found that 66 per cent all 18-35 year-olds are unhappy at work, and the proportion rises to 83 per cent among 30-35 year-olds. According to their results, one in 15 has already quit the rat race and 45 per cent are seriously contemplating a career change.

They labelled this group of people ‘TIREDs’ – or Thirty-something Independent Radical Educated Drop-outs. In analysing this market segment, they discovered that these otherwise highly successful and motivated professionals were lacking something in their corporate life. This they called the ‘LDDR factor’ – they wanted Less Demand (i.e. less work-related stress, shorter working hours) and Deeper Reward (i.e. more job satisfaction, higher quality of life).

What‟s more, this existential crisis doesn’t appear to be confined either to the thirty-something age group, nor to the UK. According to the Worldwatch Institute, about a third of Americans report being ‘very happy, the same share as in 1957, when Americans were only half as wealthy. And in Japan, there is a word for ‘death from overwork’ (karoshi).

In fact, the industrialised world in general fares much worse than expected on some measures of wellbeing. For example, in the New Economics Foundation’s 2006 Happy Planet Index, which measures the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planet’s natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens, Italy is 66th, Germany 81st, Japan 95th, the UK comes 108th, Canada 111th, France 129th, United States 150th and Russia 172nd.

So what is going on here? Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning and a personal survivor of four Nazi concentration camps, suggests that our Western pursuit of economic growth may be to blame: ‘Consider today’s society,’ he says. ‘It gratifies and satisfies virtually every need – except for one, the need for meaning. This spreading meaning vacuum is especially evident in affluent industrial countries. People have the means for living, but not the meanings.’

Management guru, Charles Handy, puts it another way: ‘We seem to be saying that life is about economics, that money is the measure of things. My hunch is that most of us don’t believe any of this, and that it won’t work, but we are trapped in our own rhetoric and have, as yet, nothing else to offer, not even a different way to talk about it’ …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/paper_csr_change_agency_wvisser.pdf”]Pdf[/button] CSR Change Agency (paper)

Related pages

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/making-a-difference”]Page[/button] Making a Difference (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2008) CSR Change Agency: Making a Difference, CSR International Paper Series, No. 1.

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