First Advisor

Craig Shinn

Date of Publication

Winter 3-17-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Public Affairs and Policy


Public Affairs and Policy




Sustainability, Corporate governance, Social responsibility of business -- Public opinion, Social responsibility of business -- Government policy



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 143 pages)


Global sustainability issues cross all sectors of society, including businesses, governments, and communities and come with substantial costs. Business organizations are increasingly expected to address sustainability issues in a responsible manner and to disclose socially responsible behaviors accurately and transparently, showing that they are effective at managing and being proactive about sustainability challenges. In light of these pressures and expectations for business organizations, the fundamental research question for this study was whether variation existed in the levels of engagement in sustainability efforts across firms globally, and, more importantly, why such variation existed.

The level of strategic firm engagement in sustainability was proposed to be influenced by stakeholders and other factors that had relevance to sustainability. Three types of stakeholders with the potential power and legitimacy for influencing strategic decisions regarding firm engagement in sustainability were investigated - executive management, community and government. Multiple firm-related and country-related contextual factors were also investigated as influencers. The study was global in nature, consisting of four hundred companies in twenty-five countries.

Stakeholder theory, as the foundation of the investigation, was supported by the results of the study. Executive management, community, and government as stakeholders were found to have significant influence on the level of firm engagement in sustainability. Firm size, country economy, country technological readiness, country fossil fuel dependence, and industry sector were also found to have significant influence on the level of firm engagement in sustainability and approximately 26% of the variation in firm sustainability engagement was accounted for by the combined influence of executive management, government and community as stakeholder influences and firm size and country technological readiness as contextual factors.

Specific findings showed that there were higher levels of firm engagement in sustainability when executive management provided explicit support for sustainability as a strategic issue, in communities with positive supportive norms for sustainability and a higher propensity for citizen-based political action and when there was an optimal level of government regulation and formalized institutional power. Other factors that led to higher levels of firm engagement in sustainability were for firms in energy-related and automotive industry sectors, for larger firms based on revenue size, and for firms with headquarters located in countries with developed economies and higher technological readiness.


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