Implementing Corporate Sustainability in MNCs – Facing Paradoxes in a Multi-level Setting



We are living in times of immense challenges for our society and planet. Achieving financial success while advancing social and environmental goals enables sustainability but raises challenging tensions. Previous research has established the occurrence of tensions such as conflicting economic, environmental, and social concerns and yet our insights on addressing the challenges practitioners face are limited. Therefore, this study draws on empirical research based on an 18-month organizational ethnography at the multinational company ‘ChemCo‘ to shed light on: “What are the dynamics of tensions in a sustainability department over time?” The approach is inductively motivated. During the ethnographic study of a multi-national company implementing sustainability goals, we noticed tensions that relate to underlying paradoxes which inhibit the full potential of impact of the sustainability strategy. Conceptually, this study is positioned within the paradox perspective and corporate sustainability and takes a process view.

In the overall study, I first identify the tensions and paradoxes present in the field. Secondly, I show how the responsibility for dealing with tensions is shifted across levels by various actors over time and is effectively passed around like a hot potato. Thirdly, through an issue selling lens, I capture individual approaches to paradox and unveil the dynamics of unintended consequences. Finally, by acknowledging the important role of a team setting, I use an identity work lens to extend our knowledge of how paradoxes influence teams and how they repair and grow their team identity over time. The specific contributions are capturing the dynamic development through a process time perspective as well as introducing a framework of multi-level paradoxes in corporate sustainability.

Grand Challenges seminar series

This presentation is part of the Grand Challenge seminar series. The aim of this series is to foster high-level discussions within ERIM on grand societal challenges (the reduction of poverty, increasing equality, combating climate change) and the opportunities that these provide for management and organizational research. The focus on grand challenges aligns with the interest of many in our school and RSM more widely on sustainability and the UN's sustainable development goals. Specifically, we invite leading researchers from business schools around the world who connect grand challenges to management and organizational theory and publish their work in the leading journals of our field.