EGOS Sub-theme 23: Climate (In)action: Understanding Corporate and Institutional Inertia
REFUSING, CONNECTING, AND PLAYING OFF CONFLICTING INSTITUTIONAL
A LONGITUDINAL STUDY ON THE ORGANIZATIONAL HANDLING OF THE END OF
NUCLEAR POWER, CLIMATE PROTECTION, AND THE ENERGY TURNAROUND IN
Stephan Bohn1 and Peter Walgenbach2
1University of Erfurt | Faculty of Economics, Law, and Social Sciences
Center for Empirical Research in Economics and Behavioral Sciences
Nordhäuser Str. 63 | 99089 Erfurt | Germany
0049/361 737 11 64 | firstname.lastname@example.org
2 Friedrich Schiller University of Jena | Chair of Organization, Leadership and Human Resource Management
School of Economics and Business Administration
Carl-Zeiss-Str. 3 | 07743 Jena | Germany
0049 (3641) 9-43130 | email@example.com
Organizations are embedded in a world of plurality, a world of institutional complexity
(Greenwood, Raynard, Kodeih, Micelotta, & Lounsbury, 2011). They are surrounded by
diverse and partly contradictory institutional demands that originate from various stakeholders
with different, sometimes conflicting interests and expectations (Kraatz & Block, 2008; J. W.
Meyer & Rowan, 1977). Handling complexity is a difficult task for organizations.
Neoinstitutionalists argue that organizations in general need to follow institutional demands to
gain or maintain legitimacy (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983). However, in situations characterized
by conflicting institutional demands, this is not an easy task (Scherer, Palazzo, & Seidl, 2013).
Satisfying one demand may require defying others, or satisfying conflicting demands implies
that inconsistencies and conflicts between institutional demands are imposed on the
organization that may lead to intra-organizational tensions (Battilana & Dorado, 2010;
Greenwood et al., 2011; Margolis & Walsh, 2003; J. W. Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Pache &
Santos, 2010). For example, with regard to electricity producers, it is reasonable to assume that
shareholders have an interest in an increasing market capitalization, while society at large
expects them to take sustainability and climate protection seriously. Customers are concerned
with energy prices and are increasingly interested in an eco-friendly production of electricity.
Other stakeholders, such as, for example, some political parties or single parliamentarians, may
even have other interests, such as the expectation that energy companies stop using nuclear
power and establish and promote the use of renewable energies.
How organizations deal with different and partly conflicting institutional demands is a topic of
increasing interest in institutional research (Greenwood et al., 2011; Kodeih & Greenwood,
2014; Kraatz & Block, 2008; McPherson & Sauder, 2013; Pache & Santos, 2010, 2013;
Voronov, Clercq, & Hinings, 2013). However, until now studies on institutional complexity
have predominantly focused on two competing demands (Battilana & Dorado, 2010; Pache &
Santos, 2013; Reay & Hinings, 2005; Reay & Hinings, 2009; Thornton & Ocasio, 2008). These
studies appear to be oversimplified because organizations face many stakeholder groups and
therefore have to deal with many institutional demands and often more than one conflict among
them. Additionally, we know little about how organizations react to conflicting institutional
demands over time, especially if demands are dynamic; that is, if they change over time. We
argue that both the number of institutional demands and their dynamic nature increase
institutional complexity and make it even more challenging for organizations to handle this
situation and to maintain legitimacy.
In order to address the question of how organizations handle institutional complexity, we
analyze, based on a sample of 2,640 newspaper articles, the response of German atomic power
plant operators (APPOs) to the energy turnaround debate in Germany from 1997 to 2011. The
debate was highly dynamic and controversial. It included a variety of institutional demands
(secure supply, climate protection, low energy prices, and atomic phase-out), as well as
conflicts between them. Our sample, thus, further enables us to investigate the organizational
handling of “looser” or vanishing institutional demands (Greenwood et al., 2011). For example,
the former character of atomic power as a given and important technology did not prevent a
phase-out decision in Germany.
However, our data show that APPOs recognized conflicts between institutional demands and
made them a subject of discussion. They directly signaled conflicts between institutional
demands to their environment and used a “playing off” strategy to handle situations of
institutional complexity in the sense of playing off the different demands against each other.
Playing off is a common strategy on the individual level (Powell & Friedkin, 1986). Our data
show, however, that it is also a strategy applied by organizations. For example, APPOs rejected
the demand of a nuclear phase-out (NPO) arguing that it threatens the security of energy supply.
Furthermore, APPOs increasingly rhetorically linked the issues of atomic power and climate
protection as an argument to refuse the demand of an atomic phase-out. They noted that atomic
power is beneficial to society because it is a climate-friendly, CO2-free technology and that
climate protection and NPO are impossible at the same time. Overall, APPOs used institutional
complexity and conflicts between institutional demands as arguments to refuse specific
institutional demands. However, over time they obeyed the increasingly dominant demand of
an atomic phase-out. Still, the process leading to the acceptance of an NPO is characterized by
THEORY AND CONTEXT OF THE STUDY
INSTITUTIONAL COMPLEXITY AND ORGANIZATIONAL RESPONSES
In recent years, the organizational handling of conflicting institutional demands has become an
important conceptual (e.g., Greenwood et al., 2011; Kraatz & Block, 2008; Oliver, 1991) and
empirical research topic (e.g., Battilana & Dorado, 2010; McPherson & Sauder, 2013; Pache
& Santos, 2013). In her framework, Christine Oliver (1991) proposes five general response
strategies of organizations to institutional demands, which go beyond the basic argument of
institutional theory that organizations follow institutional demands in order to gain legitimacy
and receive the “license to operate” (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983). Oliver (1991) states that
following institutional demands (acquiesce) is only one response that organizations may show
and argues that four different and more active strategies are also possible: compromise, avoid,
defy, and manipulate (cf. Table 1). These strategies seem especially likely in situations in which
conflicting demands prevail.
Following invisible, taken-for-granted norms
Mimicking institutional models
Obeying rules and accepting norms
Balancing the expectations of multiple constituents
Placating and accommodating institutional elements
Negotiating with institutional stakeholders
Loosening institutional attachments
Changing goals, activities, or domains
Ignoring explicit norms and values
Contesting rules and requirements
Assaulting the sources of institutional pressure
Importing influential constituents
Shaping values and criteria
Dominating institutional constituents and processes
Table 1: Strategic responses to institutional demands (Oliver, 1991, p. 152)
Oliver further specified all five strategies by outlining tactics that describe intra-organizational
responses, extra-organizational responses, and responses that can be understood as both. For
example, manipulate and defy are behavioral strategies that highlight how organizations may
influence the organizational environment, whereas avoid refers to a more intra-organizational
handling of institutional demands. More specifically, organizations may respond to
institutional demands by adapting their goals or by buffering their technical core to avoid
internal conflicts. Compromise can be understood as both: as an internal balancing of
institutional demands and as a form of negotiating with external stakeholders. Finally,
acquiesce can be regarded as the internal implementation of accepted demands or as the
external communication that demands have been accepted.
In recent years, a large number of in-depth studies have been conducted that describe the intra-
organizational handling of conflicting institutional demands based on concepts such as
translation, decoupling, or hybridity (Battilana & Dorado, 2010; Bohn, Galander, &
Walgenbach, 2015; Jay, 2013; Pache & Santos, 2013). The distinguishing feature of these
studies is that they use a process-oriented design that allows not only for describing the result
of following institutional demands (e.g., structural isomorphism or adaptation of
institutionalized ideas), but also for highlighting the underlying and partly opposing processes
that can be observed in organizations. Such studies have shown a variety of reactions on
conflicting institutional demands, as, for example, sequences of different responses over time
(Bohn et al., 2015); selective coupling of specific institutionalized structural elements (Pache
& Santos, 2013), and various forms of managing increasingly hybrid organizations (Battilana
& Dorado, 2010). These process studies provide deep insights into intra-organizational
responses over time. However, so far, institutional research has neglected the extra-
organizational handling of conflicting institutional demands.
INSTITUTIONAL COMPLEXITY AND THE GERMAN ELECTRICITY MARKET
Paying attention to the responses to institutional complexity over time, we investigate the
German electricity market and more precisely the reactions of APPOs on the dynamic issues
in this market. Until 1998, the German electricity market was highly regulated and consisted
of regional monopolies. In the last twenty years, however, this market has been characterized
by institutional and technical changes, new regulations, and a dynamic debate about its general
structure. The development had considerable effects. For example, the share of renewables on
the gross electricity production increased from 4% in 1998 to 18% in 2011, whereas the share
of atomic power decreased from 34% to 23% (cf. Figure 1).
Figure 1: Distribution of energy sources (average per year) used in gross electricity generation, 1993 to
2012 (BMWi, 2014)
This development was accompanied by new laws, as well as by changing governments with
different affinities to atomic power, renewable energies, and climate protection (for an
overview, see Table 2). APPOs were confronted with these issues, and we argue that, over
time, institutional complexity increased for APPOs. The development started with the
liberalization of the German energy market (German Energy Industry Act [EnWG] 1998). The
German Energy Industry Act has existed since 1935; its stated purpose is to provide a “safe,
low-priced, consumer-friendly, efficient and environmentally friendly supply with electricity”
(EnWG 1998, § 1 Purpose of the Act), whereas security of supply is of utmost importance. The
liberalization of the market led to mergers and in general to a concentration of big energy
providers, whereas the four remaining atomic power plant operators, E.ON, RWE, Vattenfall,
and EnBW, control approximately 90% of the whole electricity production capacity in
Germany. In 1998, the year of the liberalization, the more static demands, “security of supply”
and “fair electricity prices,” were supplemented by a discussion on NPO as an important issue
in the election campaign of the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party.
Atomic energy, which accounts for 15 to 50% of the electricity produced by the APPOs (cf.
Table 5), is considered to have low marginal production costs and to generate high profits for
the APPOs because the power plants are usually already written off (von Roon & Huck, 2010).
Atomic power plants are thus important company assets that were threatened by the intended
NPO. In late September 1998, the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party won the
Coal Gas and Oil Atomic power Renewables
parliamentary election, and the new government decided to stop the utilization of atomic
energy in Germany. From this point onward, complexity increased for the APPOs in Germany.
With the decision on an atomic phase-out, a new demand came on top of the already-established
regulatory demands, which already had a conflicting character. Two arguments were discussed
in particular: first, the important role of nuclear power for a secure supply of electricity; and
second, the risk of higher electricity prices in comparison to other industrial countries, if NPO
were realized (Knopf et al., 2011). In general, atomic power provides approximately one third
of the German electricity, and, therefore, it seemed difficult and cost-intensive to replace them.
The debate on the use of atomic energy was highly dynamic (cf. Table 2), beginning in 1998
and resulting in the decision on NPO that was put into law in 2002. It included the closure of
the nuclear power plants Stade in 2003 and Obrigheim in 2005. The debate further
encompassed the decision on the exit from the NPO in 2009, which was put into law in 2010,
and the Fukushima accident in Japan, which revitalized the discussion and again triggered the
second NPO in Germany (2011). Institutional complexity was further intensified by the debate
on the importance of climate protection as a major political and societal demand (cf. Table 2).
Climate protection became an increasingly important issue in the last 20 years, starting in 1997
with the Kyoto conference and the Kyoto Protocol. In 2000, the German Renewable Energy
Act (EEG) came into force, which regulated the support of renewable energies. Furthermore,
in 2003 the EU Emissions Trading System became effective, as did the Kyoto Protocol in 2005.
Between 2007 and 2010 (World Climate Report “Climate Change 2007” and Cancún
Agreements , which included the formal recognition to the “below 2°C goal”), the
significance of the issue increased rapidly—indeed, it exploded, as is demonstrated by the
frequency of the topic in the media (cf. Table 2). Because of the dynamic character of the NPO
discussion as well as the debates on climate protection and energy turnaround, we argue that
complexity further increased, as APPOs were repeatedly expected to meet and to adapt to new
and partially conflicting laws and regulations that affected their daily practice.
Climate protection and the corresponding expansion of renewable energies were considered as
rather expensive, as both required the use of new technologies and the enhancement of the
production capacity based on renewable energies. Therefore, climate protection seemed—at
least in the short run—in conflict with the demand for low electricity prices (Fischer, 2009).
However, a counter argument in the debate was that in the long run, renewables will be less
expensive than atomic energy as no atomic waste is produced or needs to be disposed of. It was
argued that the disposal costs of atomic waste are high and hard to calculate. Another argument
was that renewables cannot completely substitute for atomic power because they cannot cover
the base load of the power demand in Germany (Elliston, Diesendorf, & MacGill, 2012;
Schmidt & Vohrer, 2010; Stadler, 2008). Additionally, it was argued that carbon dioxide
emissions of nuclear energy are low compared to fossil energies like coal, which is the most
important source of electricity in Germany.
In conclusion, the institutional complexity that APPOs were confronted with consisted of at
least four different institutional demands (cf. Table 2): (1) NPO determined by the German
Atomic Energy Act (AtG), (2) climate protection and the expansion of renewable energies that
is regulated by the Renewable Energies Act (EEG) and the EU Emission Trading System, (3)
low electricity prices, and (4) security of supply. The latter two demands are regulated by the
German Energy Industry Act (EnWG). Tensions between these demands were highlighted to
exist in five dimensions: 1) climate protection vs. low electricity prices, 2) climate protection
vs. secure supply, 3) NPO vs. low electricity prices, 4) NPO vs. secure supply, and 5) climate
protection vs. NPO, as was shown above.
EGOS Sub-theme 23: Climate (In)action: Understanding Corporate and Institutional Inertia
Climate protection, renewables (and energy turnaround)
Other developments relevant for the
German energy sector
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in
Kyoto, binding obligations to reduce CO2 emissions
NPO as an important campaign issue of the Social
Democratic Party and Green Party
Liberalization of the German energy
NPO decision, agreement between the federal
government and the power utilities
German Renewable Energy Act (EEG); aim to promote
(and subsidize) renewable energies
Merger of PE, BW, VIAG, VEBA to
E.ON; VEW merged with RWE
NPO comes into force and the German Atomic
Energy Act (EnWG) is amended
Germany ratifies the Kyoto Protocol
Merger of the LAUBAG, HEW, VEAG
to Vattenfall Germany
Closure of the nuclear power plant in Stade
Decision of the European parliament to establish a
greenhouse gas emission trading scheme
Liberalization of the German gas market
Closure of the nuclear power plant in Obrigheim
EU emissions trading scheme and the Kyoto Protocol
come into force
IPCC report on Climate Change 2007 (climate warming
is unequivocal because of CO2 emissions
Decision to extend the operational lifespan of the
nuclear power stations (exit from the phase-out)
Recognition of the two-degree target (United Nations
Climate Change Conference Cancún)
Phase-out decision in Germany (exit from the exit
from the phase-out)
Fukushima Daiichi accident and
meltdown of three reactors
Table 2: Important developments within the NPO, climate change and energy turnaround debates; bars indicate the number of hits/per year on the issues of atomic
power and climate protection in the weekly newspapers “Die Zeit” and “Welt am Sonntag” (IPCC=Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change;
PE=PreussenElektra; BW=Bayernwerk; VEW=Vereinigte Elektrizitätswerke Westfalen; HEW=Hamburgische Electricitäts-Werke; LAUBAG=Lausitzer
In light of the developments of the German energy industry from 1997 onward, we are
interested in how APPOs responded to this increasing dynamic institutional complexity. In light
of the theoretical background we sketched above, we address the following research questions:
How did APPOs respond to dynamic issues such as the dynamic atomic power and
climate protection debate in Germany over time?
How did APPOs handle the loss of a field-level endorsement of a central company asset
(as in the case of atomic power)?
How did APPOs handle situations of institutional complexity and conflicting
institutional demands? Which strategies did they apply, and which activities did they
Based on a sample of 2,640 newspaper articles, we analyze the responses and activities of
German APPOs during a 15-year period, from 1997—the year of the Kyoto Protocol—to 2011,
when the Fukushima nuclear accident led to the second NPO decision in Germany. For this
period, we are interested in the general responses, arguments, and activities of the APPOs to
the following dynamic institutional demands: atomic phase-out, climate protection, and energy
turnaround—the latter one links the first two demands (Braun-Wanke, Busch, Fischer, &
Wanke, 2002). We seek contemporary documents in order to avoid the problem of ex-post
rationalization of activities. Mass media offer this feature and are considered as a resonating
space for public opinions, institutions, and institutional demands (Carroll & McCombs, 2003;
R. E. Meyer, 2004). We selected two German newspapers that have detectably different
political views (DIE ZEIT–more liberal; WELT am Sonntag–more conservative, cf. Pürer &
Raabe, 2007). Both represent major weekly newspapers that reflect public discussions and
organizational arguments in a more comprehensive way than do daily newspapers (Gamson &
We used the publicly accessible WISO database and collected newspaper articles that contained
at least one keyword related to the discussions regarding the end of nuclear power, climate
protection, and the energy turnaround (keywords in German: Energiewende, Atomausstieg,
Klimaschutz). The data offer rich interview material from CEOs and senior managers of all
APPOs, as well as journalistic reports about companies’ activities, arguments, and their framing
of topics and events (e.g., the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, world climate conferences).
We analyze the data on the basis of our initial research questions, which pertain to companies’
responses to dynamic and conflicting institutional demands. In more detail, we ask, in direct
relation to the investigated institutional demands, the following questions:
How do APPOs position themselves in conjunction with different institutional
What are the arguments and activities of APPOs with regard to different institutional
What are the relationships between different institutional demands in the arguments of
How do the APPOs rationalize or justify their activities?
We used Oliver’s framework (1991) as a starting point to code the material but used an
inductive approach (open coding) to investigate the variety of companies’ responses. The
consideration behind such an open approach is that Oliver’s framework focuses on relatively
abstract response strategies and does not offer categories that describe the relationship between
different institutional demands. The research procedure was guided by concepts of qualitative
content analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Miles & Huberman, 1994; Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
In a first step, three coders coded a randomly selected 12-month sample (with around 200
articles) and independently and inductively developed a system of coding categories. In the next
step, the system of categories was used in order to code the entire dataset. New categories,
which were identified during the coding process, were discussed, and further categories deemed
to be relevant were included. The coders read each newspaper article and coded direct and
indirect interview material as well as reports about activities and arguments that were presented.
No journalistic comments were coded. All of the statements were coded according to the
following scheme: (1) actors (e.g., company or company lobby groups); (2) topics (energy
turnaround, climate protection, atomic phase-out); (3) general activities or evaluations; and (4)
specific content of activities or evaluations (cf. Table 3).
Yes, but under certain
No acceptance and threat
Atomic power is CO2 free
Table 3: Coding examples and code classifications
NUCLEAR PHASE-OUT AND THE RESISTANCE AGAINST IT
In 1998, the atomic phase-out was an important election issue of the Social Democratic Party
and the Green Party. They won the election, and the NPO debate increased rapidly in the media
(cf. Table 2). Nuclear power plants as important company assets of APPOs were endangered,
and, thus, it is not surprising that the immediate response of the APPOs was opposition to this
political goal. They introduced strong arguments that revealed their resistance against the NPO.
“The chairmen of all companies running nuclear power plants came together for confidential talks last
Friday at Bayernwerke in Munich. There was one single agenda point: the government plans for an exit
from nuclear energy. According to information of WELT am SONNTAG, an agreement was quickly found:
powering down only a single nuclear power plant before it is due would not be considered under any
circumstances.” (1998 10 Welt am Sonntag)
APPOs used many arguments that NPO is not a realistic option and that atomic power is
important for Germany. In particular, five lines of arguments can be identified. The first
argument is a general statement that there is no alternative to atomic power, for instance,
because of the limited fossil resources. Second, APPOs mentioned negative consequences that
may result from NPO, such as loss of jobs, competitive disadvantages, lower investments, and
loss of technical competence. Third, it was argued that NPO contradicts other important
political and societal demands that are regulated by the German Energy Industry Act. It was
argued in particular that NPO endangers a secure supply of energy, leads to increasing
electricity prices, and is also thwarting objectives with regard to global warming. Fourth, it was
stressed that nuclear power is important and advantageous because it is a safe and responsible
technology, economically necessary, and growing globally. Fifth, APPOs were unwilling to
accept the NPO, because—based on the German Stock Corporation Act (AktG) —they have
the obligation to operate with economic sense to the benefit of shareholders and employees.
“In the long run, nuclear energy will remain an integral part of the world-wide power supply. First of all,
because other energy sources, especially oil and gas, are being depleted. And secondly, because nuclear
power is very climate-friendly.” (Wilhelm Simson, CEO VIAG, 1999 12 Die Zeit)
“We, the energy suppliers, are not talking about an exit from nuclear power, but about a well-planned
rearrangement of the runtime for the existing power plants. (...) Besides, the responsibility for the negative
consequences of an energy mix without nuclear energy lies with the government. Not to forget the climate
problems and the jobs. Gas-fired power plants do not provide an alternative to our state-of-the-art nuclear
power plants. Instead, the alternative will be the nuclear energy that will be imported from our European
neighbors.” (Otto Majewski, CEO Bayernwerk; 1998 08 Die Zeit)
“For us, nuclear power is not an end in itself. Instead, we are well able to handle its technical safety. And
additionally, the plants are completely written off, making them so attractive for the German economy that
they could not be replaced by any other source of energy. The second-best alternative, electricity from gas
turbines, costs three pfennigs more per kilowatt hour. That amounts to five billion marks of extra costs
every year for the German economy and its businesses.” (Otto Majewski, CEO Bayernwerk; 1998 12 Die
All quotations from the analyzed newspapers were translated by the authors.
“We will not do anything that harms our shareholders. Mr. Trittin [German Environment Minister] wants
an exit after 25 years. If we went along with that, we might face problems with the law on stock companies.”
(Ulrich Hartmann, CEO VEBA; 1999 11 Welt am Sonntag)
Partly, APPOs combined some of the five lines of argument. In this context, it is particularly
worth mentioning that APPOs connected their response to other important issues (e.g.,
electricity prices) or demands of stakeholder groups (e.g., shareholder interests) to justify their
opposition. One of the most frequent arguments was that NPO implies that secure supply and
low prices will no longer be feasible. The use of opposing arguments increased rapidly from
1998 to 1999. At the same time, APPOs criticized the government and used threats to illustrate
what would happen if NPO were realized. For example, companies threatened that they would
go to court, and they called for financial compensation.
“The permissions the operators hold are open-ended. Hence, they threatened the government with
compensation claims that may amount to billions of marks, in case the government enacted an exit.” (1998
10 Die Zeit)
“If necessary, we will go to court in the interest of our shareholders. If need be, even in front of the European
Court of Justice, as a liberalized electricity market is currently developing in Europe. And in this context
anti-discrimination principles have to be applied in order to avoid unfair competition within the European
Union.” (Manfred Timm, CEO HEW; 2000 01 Welt am Sonntag)
Besides opposing statements, from 1999 to 2000 the articulation of claims became increasingly
important. The communication of claims as a response strategy is not directly mentioned in
Oliver’s (1991) framework. In our case, the articulation of claims often signals a general
willingness to accept NPO, but the willingness to accept was conditional. The most important
claim, in terms of frequency, is the claim for longer lifetimes of nuclear power plants than was
intended by the government.
“We always called for a remaining lifetime [for the power plants] of 40 years at full capacity. Now we are
willing to accept 35 years. But the condition for this is that all the other requirements are right and that we
can run our power plants as free of interference, as done in other countries. We need sustained peace on the
field of nuclear power in Germany to the maximum extent possible.” (Manfred Timm, CEO HEW; 2000
01 Welt am Sonntag)
“But the resistance is brittle. On the quiet, the companies running the nuclear power plants are spreading
the word that they may be willing to accept a permitted lifetime of below 35 years [for nuclear power
plants]. Their intention is to gain the flexibility to shut down certain power plants at a time when it is
economical, for example before large repairs and overhauls. That would save costs for power plants which
would otherwise have a very short permitted lifetime after an overhaul.” (2000 02 Welt am Sonntag)
Additionally, APPOs called for a reliable long-term framework for energy companies, a
modification of the NPO policy, the undisturbed operation of nuclear power plants within the
remaining period, political support to improve the image of nuclear power, the free transfer of
electricity production rights, and the involvement of the (more atomic-friendly) opposition in
the national parliament, the federal states, and the European Union in the NPO discussion. With
the last claim, they aimed at involving advocates of atomic power. At this time, Germany was
the only country in the European Union that intensively discussed NPO.
The character of the arguments clearly reveals that APPOs signaled their willingness to accept
the political decision, but at the same time a “NPO consent” was attached to specific
preconditions for the APPOs. Overall, APPOs tried to negotiate the content of NPO and used
three general types of arguments: opposition, raising claims, and signaling the general
willingness to accept NPO. In the first stage companies responded to the NPO debate with
strong opposition, rejection, and threats. In later stages claims became more important and the
number of opposing arguments decreased, while at the same time the communication of a
general willingness to accept NPO increased (cf. Table 4). However, APPOs emphasized that
they would accept NPO only because of political pressure.
Table 4: Frequency of codes within the NPO debate in Germany from 1997 to 2000. (The full table [1997-
2011] can be found in the appendix.)
Government as well as representatives of the APPOs signed an NPO agreement (“Agreement
between the Federal Government and the Utility Companies, June-14-2000”), in which the
maximum quantity of electricity was specified for every atomic power plant (BMUB, 2000).
APPOs accepted the NPO. On average every nuclear power plant was given the right to produce
electricity for the next 13 years, whereas the last atomic power plant should be closed in 2021.
“The industry has never hidden the fact that there are disparities in opinion between the German government
and the companies, regarding the peaceful usage of nuclear energy. At the same time, the industry respects
the plans of the government for a systematic phase-out from nuclear energy. This was fixed in the agreement
of June 2000, which we adhere to. This process is very painful for the industry, but there is no alternative
under the current political constellation. Nevertheless, this produces neither winners nor losers. The German
government has ensured that we will be able to run our nuclear power plants without any disturbance,
including their disposal, in the long run. For the industry this marks the end of a period of great, incalculable
economic risks. The negotiated allowances for the further production of electricity quite precisely match
the amounts of electricity that have been produced by all German nuclear power plants in the past.
Therefore, a final exit from nuclear electricity is still far away. In any case, we have reached half-time.”
(Gert Maichel, RWE; 2001 06 Welt am Sonntag)
In the following years, we observe a general decrease in the intensity of the debate (cf. Table
2). The coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party was confirmed in the
parliamentary election in September 2002, and soon the first atomic power plants in Stade
(2003) and Obrigheim (2005) were shut down. As the NPO debate nearly disappeared from the
media discourse, climate protection became an increasingly important topic.
THE RISING DEBATE ABOUT CLIMATE PROTECTION AND RENEWABLES
From 1997 to 2004 climate protection was not a big issue for APPOs, which is reflected in the
small number of statements on this issue in press articles. However, if APPOs referred to the
issue of climate protection, it was mostly through counterarguments. They argued, for instance,
that climate protection is very expensive and renewables cannot guarantee secure supply but
rather will lead to an increase in electricity prices. The arguments are similar to the dominant
arguments against NPO. APPOs critically appraised NPO and the discussion on climate
protection and justified their counterarguments based on the importance of other demands.
From 2005 on, the situation changed. The launch of the European Union Emissions Trading
System (EU ETS) and the Kyoto Protocol in 2005 were two important events for the climate
protection movement. The year 2005 also marks a turning point in our data. From 2005 onward,
positive APPO statements on the issue of climate protection increased (cf. Table 6 in appendix).
After strong opposition, the APPOs now accepted the issue of climate change as a fact. In terms
of media frequency, the general climate protection debate increased rapidly, peaking in 2007
when the World Climate Report (“Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change”) was launched (cf. Table 2). The most important results in this report are
the unequivocal warming of the climate system and the statement that “most of the observed
increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the
observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations” (IPCC, 2007, p. 10).
Renewable energies are considered to be an important means besides energy efficiency to
reduce greenhouse gas (CO2) emissions and stop anthropogenic climate change. In the same
year the EU presented new targets for climate protection (cf. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-
release_MEMO-08-33_en.htm?locale=fr). These targets became especially relevant for
Germany, as approximately 50% of the gross electricity production comes from coal, which
generates particularly high CO2 emissions (cf. Figure 1). Germany, together with Poland, Czech
Republic, Romania, Greece, and Denmark, has the highest share of coal power in the European
Union (Destatis, 2011). However, the share of renewable energies in the overall electricity
consumption in Germany had already increased from 5% in 2002 to 12% in 2007 and 19% in
2011 (see Figure 1). APPOs argued that they contributed to this development and invested
particularly in renewables such as wind and solar power.
“The objectives have to be brought forward by society and politicians, while taking stakeholders, societies,
and NGOs into consideration. A first step toward this is to acknowledge global warming and the human
influence upon the climate as a scientific and societal fact. But when it comes to developing efficient
solutions and developing new technologies, we have to make use of the power of markets. Businesses, or
the economy as a whole, have to take on responsibility; and they have to realize that combined efforts for
climate protection can create notable and ongoing innovations.” (Lars Josefsson, CEO Vattenfall; 2005 05
Welt am Sonntag)
“All quarterly profits have no value whatsoever, if we cannot solve the climate problem. After already
dealing with ‘Katrina,’ ‘Rita’ will now afflict us at the weekend, presumably the third-strongest hurricane
of all time. It takes a large portion of ignorance and arrogance to ignore the fact that this is part of a rapid
transformation. Therefore, climate protection is a focal topic for me. Thankfully, all important political
parties have implemented this very deeply in their policies, even if the approaches differ.” (Utz Claassen,
CEO EnBW; 2005 09 Welt am Sonntag)
“Since 2008 we have invested way above a billion euros in renewable energies every year. We intend to
sustain this in the upcoming years. By these means, RWE Innogy has ascended to become one of the largest
investors in renewable energies in Europe within only a few years.” (Jürgen Großmann, CEO RWE; 2011
03 Die Zeit)
However, the tone of the responses of APPOs on the issue of climate protection was also
critical. It included direct counterarguments not against the necessity of climate protection, but
against renewables. The main argument was that renewables cannot serve as a source of base
load electricity. Additional APPOs argued that renewables will lead to higher electricity prices
and that they are generally more expensive because of the high public subsidies they receive.
“No other company in Europe is investing as much in renewable energies and climate-friendly technologies
as we are. But the report of the German Energy Agency shows very clearly that a massive expansion of
renewable energies and power-heat coupling will not suffice, as the German government is aiming at for
2020, especially not for the base load electricity supply. We are facing a supply gap between 12,000 and
21,000 megawatts. The conclusion is that we need nuclear energy and we need modern gas and coal plants
that emit a lot less CO2.” (Wulf Bernotat, CEO E.ON; 2008 03 Welt am Sonntag)
Thus, APPOs reacted in two ways: by investing in renewables and by arguing that conventional
energy has the potential to be climate friendly because of new and more efficient technologies.
This argument is not surprising, as approximately 60% of the gross electricity generation in
Germany comes from fossil resources like coal and gas (cf. Figure 1). Even APPOs produce
from one third to 80% of electricity with coal and gas. Conversely, renewables and especially
“new renewables” are underrepresented (cf. Table 5).
Gas and Oil
Table 5: Energy mix (electricity) of the four biggest German energy suppliers in 2007
The argument that only conventional energy, like coal, gas, or atomic power, enables base load
capacity and guarantees the secure supply was mentioned during the whole observation period.
APPOs neither directly rejected the issue of climate protection nor rejected renewables, but they
applied many counterarguments that aimed to illustrate the disadvantages and technical
weaknesses of renewables. Additionally, they (re)framed conventional energy sources as
climate friendly. For example, they used the term “clean coal power” as a synonym for coal
power with higher efficiency and invested in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.
However, in Germany there had already been a very controversial discussion about the safety
of CCS, and currently only experimental facilities exist.
“The energy producers are relying on technologies to store CO2 in the earth before it is emitted into the
atmosphere. If this this proved to be feasible it would make coal socially acceptable again, even in times of
global warming. In Lusatia, Vattenfall is building a pilot facility for CCS, which is supposed to go into
operation next year.” (2007 03 Die Zeit)
“We need coal because we still need sufficient amounts of affordable electricity for the base load, in the
near future. Besides, our new coal plants are now already emitting a fifth less CO2, compared to the old
ones.” (Wulf Bernotat, CEO E.ON; 2008 05 Die Zeit)
“Large energy suppliers want to build seven new pit coal plants near the outlets of the rivers Jade and Ems,
as a compensation for the exit from nuclear energy.” (2008 04 Die Zeit)
APPOs argued that there is a need for a mix of energy sources—that is, renewables and
conventional sources—and that the government has the responsibility to guarantee a stable
political framework for a long-term energy policy.
“We have to cover our backs using a broad energy mix that uses every carrier of energy wherever it is used
best.” (Jürgen Grossmann, CEO RWE; 2009 08 Die Zeit)
“Without any doubt, we need a massive extension of renewable energies. But we will also be needing the
other carriers of energy for several decades. And politics has to produce a long-term framework for this
purpose. The central question is: What will an energy mix 2020 look like, that is affordable, safe, and
climate friendly?” (Wulf Bernotat, CEO E.ON; 2008 05 Die Zeit)
“What I said is that the problem of climate protection cannot be solved on a global scale without nuclear
energy, using today’s technologies and knowledge...” (Utz Claassen, CEO EnBW; 2005 09 Welt am
Over time, the necessity of climate protection has developed into a taken-for-granted topic with
regulations and laws that are considered appropriate. However, overall the dynamic nature of
the climate protection debate has increased institutional complexity.
“The German energy suppliers are being put under pressure from all sides. On the one hand, the German
government is holding on to the nuclear phase-out. On the other hand, the resistance to the construction of
new coal plants is growing. The chairman of RWE, Jürgen Großmann, considers this disastrous. He is
warning that this German solo action will inevitably lead to a shortage in energy.” (2008 01 Welt am
In fact, the other demands were still in place. Companies had to guarantee secure supply and
low prices, and at the same time they were expected to realize the closure of their atomic power
plants, which provided approximately 30% of the gross electricity production in Germany in
THE COMEBACK OF THE DEBATE ON NUCLEAR ENERGY
After the years 2002 to 2005, which were characterized by only a few public statements on
NPO, we observe a shift in the number of articles on this issue in the media (Table 2). Beginning
in 2006, the NPO debate rapidly increased in parallel with the climate change debate. Especially
since 2007 and after the publication of the IPCC report, APPOs argued very consistently, using
strong arguments against the NPO. In particular they argued about why atomic power is a good
and important energy source. Specifically, APPOs connected the use of atomic power to the
issues of climate protection and carbon dioxide (CO2). For example, APPOs noted that they
take responsibility for society and that atomic power is beneficial for society. They described
nuclear power as a climate-friendly CO2-free technology.
“For several days the energy suppliers had vigorously promoted nuclear energy. They stated that climate
protection in Germany would not be possible without a lifetime extension for nuclear power plants.
Furthermore, anyone shutting them down would drive up the price of electricity and scare away companies,
hence wielding an ax at the German economy.” (2007 07 Die Zeit)
“Globally, we cannot exit from nuclear energy without risking a climate catastrophe. The world has a
gigantic hunger for energy that is increasing dramatically. Wanting to meet this demand with renewable
energies is a pure illusion.” (Utz Claassen, CEO EnBW; 2006 04 Welt am Sonntag)
“The producers of nuclear energy labeled their power plants ‘Germany’s unpopular climate protectors,’
hoping for a lifetime extension and hence considerable additional profits through their political efforts.
They demanded unambiguously that politics had to ‘conduct a course correction regarding the nuclear
energy option.’ And they are not even lacking supporters for their cause. For example, the International
Energy Agency in an unusually direct manner advised the German government ‘to generally reconsider the
exit from nuclear energy, considering the negative consequences for the CO2 emissions, the security of
supply and for the economy.’” (2007 06 Die Zeit)
“In front of the yearly convention of the Institute of Energy Economics at the University of Cologne 2006,
Großmann stated that Nuclear energy ‘being CO2 neutral and comparatively cheap had to be continued and
further developed also in Germany.” (2007 03 Die Zeit)
“It isn’t even necessary to call for it [a lifetime extension]. Some time it will happen by itself, anyway. The
facts won’t allow for anything else. The whole world can’t be wrong. The Italians, Swiss and the British
are building nuclear power plants and the Swedes have scrapped their exit plans. Especially in the light of
the ambitious EU climate policy, a reconsideration of nuclear energy is necessary. Consequently, RWE will
carry on with it.” (Jürgen Grossmann, CEO RWE; 2008 01 Welt am Sonntag)
“...the nuclear power lobby preferably points at the climate catastrophe, in order to present their power
plants as the lesser evil.” (2008 04 Die Zeit)
The companies started an advertising campaign based on the slogan “Germany’s unloved
climate protectionists,” using concerns about climate change to promote nuclear energy (cf.
Figure 2). They stated in their campaign that the “unloved climate protectionists” are the atomic
power plants which produce electricity free of carbon dioxide.
Figure 2: A poster of the advertising campaign “Germany’s unloved climate protectionists.” The literal
translation is “This climate protector (the nuclear power plant Brunsbüttel) fights 24 hours for the
compliance with the Kyoto Protocol.”
Companies linked climate protection to the debate on NPO and used a strategy of playing off
these demands. They signaled that both climate protection and NPO are not possible; on the
contrary, they highlighted that atomic power is useful in order to protect the environment. In
addition to the well-known arguments that NPO is disadvantageous because of the subsequent
increase in electricity prices and a loss of jobs, companies argued that atomic power is a
bridging technology on the way to the use of renewables that guarantees secure supply, which
currently cannot be realized by the use of renewables.
“I am in favor of a modernization of the exit. If we prolong the lifecycles, we are left with a surplus that we
can invest into research and development - also for renewable energies. If we don’t do it, we will
unnecessarily and over-hastily solidify obsolete structures.” (Utz Claassen, CEO EnBW; 2006 04 Welt am
“We have to keep the whole system of energy supply stable, respecting three things simultaneously: energy
has to be safe, climate-friendly and affordable. Without any doubt, renewable energies are the future. This
is the reason why E.ON is investing as much money in them as hardly any other energy supplier. But
renewables cannot yet provide a base load to the electricity network. That’s why, for a long time to come,
we will still have to rely on coal and nuclear plants for the base load.” (Wulf Bernotat, CEO E.ON; 2008
06 Welt am Sonntag)
Therefore, the most important objective of the APPOs was a lifetime extension of the nuclear
power plants and a new debate about the national energy policy.
“Of course we will adhere to the signed contracts. But looking at the climate challenge, we are advocating
a political reassessment of nuclear energy, as is currently being done in almost all of Europe, especially in
Great Britain and Scandinavia. There, nuclear power is undergoing a renaissance.” (Wulf Bernotat, CEO
E.ON; 2008 05 Die Zeit)
Parallel to this development, APPOs used a delaying tactic. They threatened with lawsuits
against the shutdown of specific atomic power plants and raised claims for a transfer of the
electricity production quota from one atomic power plant to the next, which may have helped
delay the shutdown.
“Additionally, the producers of nuclear energy are seeking to transfer remaining lifecycle permissions from
one power plant to another, in order to keep power plants running that are currently about to be shut down.”
(2007 07 Welt am Sonntag)
In sum, in the years from 2006 to 2008 we did not find any statement or argument that signals
NPO acceptance, but we found manifold arguments against NPO and arguments that give
atomic power a positive framing (Figure 3). The following word cloud illustrates the change in
the statements of the companies.
Figure 3: Word cloud based on the frequency of opposing arguments from 1998 to 2001 and from 2006 to
2008 (the larger the font, the higher the frequency of the specific argument in the media (created with
Tagxedo and Microsoft Excel)
Overall, companies actively engaged against NPO and used the issue of climate protection as a
counterargument to the NPO. Three factors influenced this development. First, the increasing
climate change debate provided the opportunity to signal that the production of atomic power
is CO2 free. Second, the political constellation was changing: From 2005 onward, the biggest
fraction in the new German government consisted of the Christian Democratic Union and the
Christian Social Union, which were deemed atomic-friendly. The Green Party was no longer
part of the government, and the Social Democratic Party only represented the smaller partner
in the new coalition. The third factor draws attention to the fact that at least three nuclear power
plants would have had to be closed in the years 2007 to 2009 if no lifetime extension would
have come (BMUB, 2000). Moreover, APPOs further hoped that an atomic-friendly
conservative and liberal coalition would win the election in September 2009. This hope came
NPO = losing jobs
no alternative for atomic power
threats - legal proceedings
AP is economically necessary; NPO = competitive disadvantages/ less investments; government – ideological
counter-argument NPO - obligation to act with economic sense (towards
shareholders and employees)
AP is safe and responsible; AP is climate friendly/free of CO2
rejection - no (voluntary) atomic phase out
threats - break-off of the talks; NPO = endangers a secure supply
government - broken political promises, confidence eroded
government - hinder operation of atomic power plants
government - dual strategy of threatening and negotiation
NPO leads to increasing prices, atomic power is cheap
threats - legal proceedings (demand for compensation)
government - broken political promises, confidence eroded
AP is climate friendly/free of CO2
AP is necessary for a secure supply
counter-activities - delay shut down; counter-activities - lobbying for nuclear energy
AP is growing globally (reference to others)
AP = is cheap
THE EXIT FROM THE NUCLEAR PHASE-OUT AND THE EXIT FROM THE EXIT
In 2009, one issue of the election campaign of the Christian Democratic Union, the Christian
Social Union and the Free Democratic Party was the life extension of nuclear power plants—
that is, the exit from the NPO. They won the election on September 27, 2009. Consequently,
the lifetime extension of nuclear power plants was part of the coalition agreement. About one
year later, a law on the lifetime extension (Eleventh Law to the Amendment of the German
Atomic Energy Act, December-8-2010) as well as a new tax for nuclear power plants to finance
higher investment in renewables (German Law on Nuclear Fuel Tax, December-8-2010) came
into force. The German government linked the exit from the phase-out with the aim for climate
protection: to produce 80 percent of the required energy in 2050 with renewables (Bundestag,
2010). Compared to the number of statements in the years from 2007 to 2008, this development
was accompanied by only a few statements of APPOs in the media (cf. Table 6 in appendix).
In addition to the argument that atomic power is climate friendly, APPOs noted that nuclear
power is a bridging technology and is necessary because the profit from written-off nuclear
power plants offers the opportunity for higher investments in renewables, which will lead to a
faster transition between energy sources.
Only one year later the German government decided again to terminate the use of nuclear
energy. However, in the first months of 2011 there was no discussion about atomic power in
the press, but when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident resulting in a meltdown the debate
rapidly increased (cf. Table 2). APPOs first argued that German nuclear power plants are
reliable, and then called for an impartial discussion at the European level.
“If I were not 100% sure that our nuclear power plants were optimally prepared for all dangers, I would
shut them down instantly.” (Hans-Peter Villis, CEO EnBW; 2011 03 Welt am Sonntag)
“The power plants in Germany are safe and have always been, or else they would have never been powered
up.” (Pieter Wasmuth, CEO Vattenfall Hamburg; 2011 04 Welt am Sonntag)
“I have thought about nuclear energy a lot. It is responsibly feasible under the condition that it complies
with the highest of safety standards, as it does in Germany. (...) I am not a clairvoyant, but it is very obvious
that our European neighbors, such as Poland and Spain, are handling this topic a lot less emotionally than
we are. All large industrial nations in the world are pursuing nuclear energy. I can’t even imagine them
changing their course. (...) In this case, we need a European debate including international organizations
like the International Atomic Energy Agency, instead of a German solo action.” (Jürgen Großmann, CEO
RWE; 2011 03 Die Zeit)
“Something has happened that no one was able to predict and we did not see coming. This leaves me with
great dismay. As operators of nuclear power plants, we have to analyze the facts very precisely and have to
examine which lessons we can learn from the terrible catastrophe in Japan. But it is not sensible to panic
and to power down all nuclear power plants over hastily, as almost all politicians are now demanding. (...)
All countries around us have understood this. Germany was the only country to turn off power plants.”
(Jürgen Großmann, CEO RWE; 2011 05 Welt am Sonntag)
The German government convened the Ethics Commission for a Safe Energy Supply in order
to find a social consensus for the future of energy supply in Germany and to discuss the risks
of nuclear energy. The Commission recommended that nuclear power plants in Germany be
closed within a decade (BMUB, 2011). Accordingly, on June 30, 2011, the German parliament
again decided to phase out nuclear power (the so-called exit from the exit from the phase-out).
The law, which came into force on August 6, 2011, resulted in a loss of the operating licenses
of eight German nuclear power plants. The other nine power plants should be shut down until
2022. APPOs argued in nearly the same style as they did in the years before: NPO endangers a
secure supply, leads to loss of jobs as well as to high energy prices, and is generally
counterproductive with regard to the protection of the climate. APPOs were unwilling to accept
the new phase-out decision. They threatened with legal actions against the decision.
“...Teyssen initially announced in the summertime that 11,000 jobs would have to be cut back, hereof 6,000
in Germany. The reason for this is that E.ON has a very high percentage of nuclear energy (roughly 40%,
while RWE has only 25%) and therefore is hit much more strongly by the decided energy turnaround.”
(2011 12 Welt am Sonntag)
“If we now throw everything overboard and rely exclusively on renewable energies too early, we will risk
exploding electricity prices and insecure supplies...” (Jürgen Großmann, CEO RWE; 2011 05 Welt am
“And the atomic power lobby is back at claiming that nuclear energy was indispensable for three reasons:
Money, morals, and the behavior of others. The exit would cost too much money and then nuclear energy
would have to be imported. The German solo action is considered irresponsible and dangerous.” (2011 04
“A Japanese newspaper journalist appeared in the hotel lobby during the late afternoon in order to interview
the German chief executive. The journalist put his dictating machine on the table in front of Großmann next
to an article from the British magazine The Economist. The headline said, ‘Nobody listens to Jürgen
Grossmann.’ The journalist asked in English, ‘do you accept this exit from nuclear energy by the German
government?’ Grossmann replied: ‘No, we do not accept this.’ He spoke of damages that had arisen for
RWE, enormous financial damages.” (2011 07 Die Zeit)
“E.ON has already filed a suit because of the accelerated atomic exit in front of the federal constitutional
court of Germany. And Vattenfall considers going to law in front of the International Centre for Settlement
of Investment Disputes in Washington. Billions are at stake.” (2011 11 Die Zeit)
However, the second phase-out decision has not been revised to date.
With our study we contribute to institutional complexity research by investigating
organizational responses (i.e., of atomic power plant operators) to dynamic as well as
conflicting institutional demands in the context of the energy turnaround debate in Germany
from 1997 to 2011. Whereas most of the existing studies focus on two conflicting demands (e.g.
Battilana & Dorado, 2010; Greenwood et al., 2011; Reay & Hinings, 2005; Reay & Hinings,
2009; Thornton & Ocasio, 2008), we argue that these studies appear to be oversimplified. We
focus on a more complex setting with four partly conflicting demands (secure supply, climate
protection, low electricity prices, and NPO). With our study we shed more light on the extra-
organizational handling of institutional complexity. In the following we will discuss our main
findings: First, the general response to institutional complexity indicates that organizations
obey new institutional demands over time. However, their following is a process in which they
show opposition and raise claims. Second, we discuss the specific structure of arguments of the
APPOs. They signaled conflicts between institutional demands and used a playing-off strategy
in response to institutional complexity. The paper concludes with some implications for future
Our findings confirm the proposition of neoinstitutional theory that organizations follow
institutional demands (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983). However, at the same time our data show
that following conflicting demands may also be a shifting process consisting of phases of
opposition followed by the acceptance of institutional demands and combined with a variety of
claims that are raised (cf. Table 6 in appendix). We observe this pattern three times in our data:
1) after the first atomic phase-out decision, 2) during the climate change debate, and 3) after
the second NPO decision.
Our results also support earlier studies showing that organizations use different response
strategies at the same time (Clemens & Douglas, 2005; Scherer et al., 2013). The
communication of claims in combination with the communication of acceptance or opposition
indicates that organizations aim to influence the framing of institutional demands as well as to
influence the content of the demands as well as the timeframe in which the demands need to be
fulfilled. They seek to protect their interests, look for a compromise, or try to manipulate
demands (Elsbach & Sutton, 1992; Oliver, 1991). For example, APPOs noted that they are
willing to accept the NPO, but at the same time claimed longer lifetimes for their plants.
According to Clemens and Douglas (2005), such a combination represents a positive
acceptance-manipulation strategy in terms of Oliver’s framework (1991). Manipulation is
considered to be the most active strategy that aims at a positive or advantageous outcome for
the organization—that is, a strategy that shapes institutional demands in a way that better fit
organizational characteristics or internal criteria of efficiency. In contrast to an intra-
organizational handling of conflicting institutional demands, which is often described in terms
of translation or hybridity (Battilana & Dorado, 2010; Bohn et al., 2015; Pache & Santos, 2013),
the acceptance-manipulation strategy represents a proactive handling of conflicting demands
before an intra-organizational adoption or implementation of the institutional demands is
considered by the organization (Elsbach & Sutton, 1992).
Further, our data show that energy companies recognized conflicts between institutional
demands and made them a subject of public discussion (and negotiation). The interviewed
CEOs argued, for example, that it is not possible to realize NPO and to have low electricity
prices at the same time. On the one hand, the signaling of conflicts can be interpreted as a kind
of handing conflicts back to their originator, the organizational environment (in the case of
nuclear energy and climate protection, they are passed especially to the government and society
in general). On the other hand, such an approach reflects a playing-off strategy, with one
institutional demand played off against another. Playing off is a common strategy that
individuals make use of (Powell & Friedkin, 1986), and our data show that playing off demands
is also a strategy applied by organizations. For example, in the first years of observation, APPOs
rejected NPO because, as they argued, it threatens the security of supply as an important
regulatory demand. They noticed that both demands cannot be fulfilled at the same time.
Further, they used well-established institutional demands, such as secure supply and low
electricity prices, to reject the more dynamic demands of climate protection and NPO. Both
secure supply and low electricity price are regulated by law, but of course they also represent
important demands of several stakeholders like private households and producers in industry.
The playing-off strategy could be observed in all phases of our analysis. APPOs used it in order
to justify their opposition and in combination with the acceptance of NPO in order to raise
claims for better conditions, such as longer lifetimes of atomic power plants or modified
contents and conditions of the demands addressed to them. Playing off can be interpreted as a
strategy that aims at rejecting institutional demands and avoiding a loss of legitimacy.
With regard to the data we used, we show that the analysis of organizational responses to
conflicting institutional demands in the media is useful for analyzing and understanding
responses of organizations to institutional demands. First, media data allow for using
contemporary documents. Second, our findings indicate that mass media are in fact an arena
for negotiation, discussion, and framing of institutional demands (Bail, 2012; Coyne & Leeson,
2009; Gamson & Modigliani, 1989). Mass media can be regarded as an important forum where
organizations negotiate with or aim to convince stakeholders in order to avoid organizational
change (Bail, 2012) and as “a site on which various social groups, institutions, and ideologies
struggle over the definition and construction of social reality” (Gurevitch & Levy, 1985, p. 19).
However, there are also shortcomings. Our study can be criticized for using an extreme case.
The issues of NPO and climate protection discussed in the media threatened important company
assets of the APPOs. However, we argue that it is exactly for this reason that the organizational
responses and their arguments became so clearly visible in the media. It is likely that processes
of influencing, manipulating, and negotiating decisions normally take place in back rooms.
Future research should give more attention to the negotiation of institutional demands and the
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Table 6: Frequency of codes in general categories (opposition, claims and acceptance)