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AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH: HOW ORGANIZATIONS TRANSLATE CLIMATE
CHANGE INTO BUSINESS AS USUAL
=THIS IS AN EARLY VERSION OF THE PAPER=
Climate change represents the grandest of challenges facing humanity. In the space of two
centuries of industrial development, human civilization has changed the chemistry of the
atmosphere and oceans with devastating consequences. Business organizations are central to this
challenge, in that they support the production of escalating greenhouse gas emissions but also
offer innovative ways to decarbonize our economies. In this paper, we examine how businesses
respond to climate change. Based on five in-depth case studies of major Australian corporations
over a 10-year period (2005–2015), we identify three key stages in the corporate translation of
climate change: framing, localizing and normalizing. We develop a grounded model that explains
how the revolutionary import of grand challenges is converted into the mundane and comfortable
concerns of “business as usual.” We find that critique is the major driver of this process by
continuously espousing the tensions between the demands of the grand challenge and business
imperatives. Our paper contributes to the literature on business and the natural environment by
identifying how and why corporate environmental initiatives deteriorate over time. More
specifically, we highlight the policy limitations of a reliance on business and market responses to
the climate crisis.
No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.
–U.S. President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, 20 January 2015
Of all the challenges facing humanity, none are more profound than anthropogenic climate
change. Through the increasing consumption of fossil fuels for energy and transportation and the
degradation of carbon-sinks such as forests and peatlands, the Earth’s climate has already
warmed on average by 1o Celsius from pre-industrial levels (Mann, 2014). The most recent
analysis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests the world is on
track for a global average temperature increase of 3 to 5o Celsius by the end of the century, with
much of this warming locked in as early as 2020–2030 (IPCC, 2013). Environmental change of
this kind is unprecedented for our species, and climate scientists argue that such a future is likely
to be incompatible with human civilization (New, Liverman, Schroeder, & Anderson, 2011).
Indeed, the current trajectory of global emissions presents an unimaginable future of large tracts
of the Earth rendered uninhabitable, the collapse of global food production, mass species
extinction, the acidification of the oceans, dramatic sea level rise and storms and droughts of
growing ferocity (Hansen, 2009; Mann & Kump, 2015).
Responding to climate change is particularly important for scholars in organization and
management theory (OMT) in that both the causes and possible solutions to climate change
derive from our globalized economy and the corporations that underpin it (Howard-Grenville,
Buckle, Hoskins, & George, 2014). Corporations are central to the characterization of climate
change as a “wicked” (Rittell & Webber, 1973; Wijen, 2014) or even a “super wicked” (Lazarus,
2009; Levin, Cashore, Bernstein, & Auld, 2012) problem. For instance, time is rapidly running
out to avoid dangerous climate change, yet corporations have historically lobbied against
emissions mitigation (see e.g. Helm, 2010; Kolk & Pinkse, 2007; Levy & Egan, 2003). Further,
while corporations are commonly viewed as the best agents to respond to climate change
(Garnaut, 2008; Stern, 2007), many of the world’s major corporations have been the most
significant contributors to humanity’s escalating carbon emissions (Heede, 2014). However,
despite the criticality of organizational responses to climate change, this is a topic that has been
largely ignored (Goodall, 2008; Tsui, 2013) and has only recently become a concern in OMT
research (Howard-Grenville et al., 2014).
Advances in understanding how organizations respond to complex environmental issues
such as climate change have been made within the scholarly field of business and the natural
environment (B&NE) (see e.g. Bansal & Hoffman, 2012; Starik & Marcus, 2000). This literature
has explained how firms’ environmental strategies and practices are influenced by pressure and
critique from regulators and competitors as well as internal champions and external entities such
as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (Delmas & Toffel, 2012; Murillo-Luna, Garcés-
Ayerbe, & Rivera-Torres, 2008; Reid & Toffel, 2009). In response, businesses have sought to
address environmental concerns through the practice of corporate environmentalism, which
seeks to balance competing demands between the market and the environment (Hoffman, 2001;
Jermier, Forbes, Benn, & Orsato, 2006). In the literature on corporate environmentalism,
scholars have highlighted how initial framings are turned into environmental practices (Bansal &
Roth, 2000; Sharma, 2000), and how managers can cognitively uphold these competing demands
(Hahn, Preuss, Pinkse, & Figge, 2014) or tensions (Van der Byl & Slawinski, 2015). However,
the notable lack of progress in reducing carbon emissions suggests that firms struggle over time
to practically deal with such grand challenges.
To further understand how firms respond to social and environmental grand challenges
we utilize a longitudinal approach, analyzing the process through which competing demands are
interpreted and enacted in response to stakeholder critique and pressure. This, we argue, involves
a continuous process of “translation” in which organizational actors make sense of potentially
challenging ideas and concepts, negotiate their meaning, and adapt them for particular situations
and contexts (Czarniawska & Joerges, 1996). From this perspective, ideas are not fixed but rather
change in the hands of people by displacing certain aspects of concepts so they fit local
discourses (Ansari, Fiss, & Zajac, 2010), as well as creating new meanings through association
(Callon, 1986). Understanding the process of translating grand challenges into practice is critical,
as this process may guide the establishment of new forms of organization and governance
arrangements that help address social and environmental concerns. This is particularly pertinent
for long-term, complex challenges such as climate change, where corporations face conflicting
and changing criticism from a range of different stakeholders.
To understand how organizations respond to climate change over time, we undertook five
in-depth case studies of major Australian corporations from different industries over a 10-year
period (2005–2015). We examined how climate change was addressed, from the motivation to
take action to the implementation of policies and practices. Analyzing interviews and documents,
we found that while these firms initially framed climate change in broad terms, organizational
engagement with the concept inevitably resulted in more limited and less threatening ideas and
practices that were amenable to prevailing discourses of profit maximization and “business as
usual.” To explain this environmentally regressive pattern, we developed a model that shows
how the translation of grand challenges into corporate practices involves a dialectical process of
responding to critique that continuously reveals the tensions associated with competing demands.
We highlight the various stages through which grand challenges are translated within corporate
settings and identify how, over time, continuous critique and reassessment results in compromise
in favor of a narrow profit motive.
Our study makes several contributions. First, as an in-depth empirical study of different
corporate responses to climate change, we illustrate how grand challenges are translated to align
with more dominant business discourses and practices. Continuous critique of competing
demands eventually purifies dominant market discourses and dilutes climate change concerns.
Second, our comparative and longitudinal perspective enabled us to develop a model to explain
how diverse strategies and tactics in different firms produce similar outcomes. This explains the
limitations of corporate engagement with grand challenges and how such engagement supports
dominant market discourses. Third, we balance overly positive and cynical views about
managerial engagement with social and environmental concerns with a model explaining how
managerial framings and initiatives are continuously challenged by everyday market evaluations.
Finally, we identify and explain the limitations of business corporations’ engagement with grand
challenges due to the wickedness of these problems. We argue that corporations are particularly
ill-suited to address climate change, since their short-term cycles, reliance on growth and
political interventions inflate the super-wickedness of climate change. Our findings have
important policy implications for those promoting reliance on market mechanisms and business
leadership as the dominant response to climate change. These insights are important for
developing broader societal responses to other grand challenges that we face.
CORPORATIONS AND THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
Since the 1960s, corporations have faced increasing criticism from a range of stakeholders over
environmental problems caused by economic development (Hoffman, 2001; Hoffman & Bansal,
2012). Opposing demands from economic and environmental discourses have acted as a central
driver for corporate change (Hart, 1995), as stakeholder critique and the threat of regulation have
triggered corporate environmental activities (Hoffman, 1999). Many corporations have
responded to this tension through what Jermier et al. (2006: 618) refer to as the “new corporate
environmentalism” (NCE), defined as “rhetoric concerning the central role of business in
achieving both economic growth and ecological rationality as a guide for management that
emphasizes voluntary, proactive control of environmental impacts in ways that exceed or go
beyond environmental laws and regulatory compliance” (emphasis in original). This has resulted
in activities such as: improving eco-efficiency to reduce energy consumption and operational
costs; increasing supply-chain efficiency; identifying new products and services to satisfy
changing market and social demands; and “green” marketing to better attract and retain
employees and build stronger customer relationships (Hart, 1995; Porter & van der Linde, 1995;
Russo & Fouts, 1997).
Two basic approaches are used to analyze NCE (Hoffman & Bansal, 2012). The first
focuses on environmental issues within the dominant business paradigm and argues that
corporations can address environmental problems and improve competitive performance,
resulting in a so-called “win-win” outcome (Fremeth & Richter, 2011; McWilliams & Siegel,
2010). Managers respond to environmental critique by signaling the importance of
environmental concerns to internal and external stakeholders and framing the issue within a
defendable business rationale (Bansal & Roth, 2000; Sharma, 2000). Through strategic framing,
managers filter and construct contextual information into a strategy process by including certain
aspects of the demands and excluding others (Bundy, Shropshire, & Buchholtz, 2013; Hahn et
al., 2014). The communicated framing of environmental issues as a threat or an opportunity
gathers support and directs new activities (Kennedy & Fiss, 2009). Corporate leaders ensure that
the framing is locally enacted by creating specific environmental roles that provide a legitimizing
effect (Bansal & Roth, 2000; Howard-Grenville & Bertels, 2012), and environmental
“champions” convince others within the firm of the importance of environmental issues in
meetings and on committees (Andersson & Bateman, 2000).
Despite the general optimism in this normative approach, evaluations of NCE recognize
the tensions that result from the opposing demands of economic and environmental goals.
Scholars have pointed out that when “pressed to choose between financial goals and societal
goals, firms will normally favor their financial goals” (Van der Byl & Slawinski, 2015: 58), thus
eliminating the tension between opposing demands (Smith & Lewis, 2011). To avoid this
regressive process, scholars have recently emphasized how firms can overcome conflicting goals
by (a) integrating and aligning competing demands (Hahn, Figge, Pinkse, & Preuss, 2010;
Whiteman, Walker, & Perego, 2013), or (b) juxtaposing and combining economic and
environmental concerns (Gao & Bansal, 2013; Hahn et al., 2014). In the former integrative
approach, the firm’s economic focus is counterbalanced by placing greater emphasis on the
environment, while the latter juxtaposing approach requires continuous stakeholder management
and negotiation. However, as Van der Byl and Slawinksi (2015) point out, there is limited
knowledge of how firms integrate or balance competing environmental and economic concerns.
Beyond the lack of empirical studies, it is not clear conceptually how firms that are continuously
facing competing internal and external criticism manage the tensions that come with complex
The second, critical approach, in evaluating NCE concludes that firms ultimately cannot
manage these tensions; the market-environment conflict is seen as fundamental and cannot be
upheld within the corporate world (Banerjee, 2003). Scholars within this critical approach argue
that the natural environment fails to be enacted within organizations beyond an immediate profit
motive (Fleming & Jones, 2013; Levy, 1997; Newton & Harte, 1997), resulting in a trade-off in
which the market trumps environmental well-being (Nyberg & Wright, 2013; Starkey & Crane,
2003). A first level of critique in this respect relates to the way in which such initiatives merely
provide the appearance of environmental benefit (i.e., “greenwashing”) (Bowen, 2014; Lyon &
Montgomery, 2015). In this view, NCE papers over the dissonance between the rhetoric and the
reality of corporate greening, maintaining social legitimacy by placating concerned consumers
and forestalling environmental regulation (Newton & Harte, 1997; Prasad & Elmes, 2005).
More substantively however, others argue that corporate initiatives such as greener
supply chains and “carbon neutrality” are driven by more basic business goals of cost reduction,
productivity improvement and market expansion (Dauvergne & Lister, 2013). Corporations
invest in these programs not so much to ensure environmental sustainability, but to maximize
business sustainability (Banerjee, 2003). NCE thus involves firms incorporating environmental
critique from NGOs, the media and employees within voluntary business activities which serve
to distract from the revolutionary changes required to address serious systemic environmental
challenges, such as, climate change. While compromise between the interests of the market and
the environment may result, the continuous evaluation of corporate greening practices within
both market and environmental discourses suggests that these compromises are at best temporary
solutions (Nyberg & Wright, 2013).
Thus both normative and more critical researchers highlight the strategic relevance of
environmental challenges within corporations and the role of senior managers in strategically
framing the meaning of an issue towards a preferred interpretation. Through strategic framing of
an issue, managers interpret and construct a particular version of reality to internal and external
audiences (Fiss & Zajac, 2006; Kaplan, 2008; Kennedy & Fiss, 2009). They shape the meaning
of the issue by promoting firm responses corresponding to their interests and values (Sonenshein,
2016), and legitimize decisions and activities implemented in the firm (Vaara & Tienari, 2008).
However, while there is literature on the role of managerial framing for both internal (Kaplan,
2008) and external (Fiss & Zajac, 2006) audiences, as well as upward influence through issue
selling of environmental concerns within organizational settings (Andersson & Bateman, 2000;
Howard-Grenville, 2007), we know far less about the process through which firms reconcile
competing demands from divergent stakeholder groups as they create and maintain frame-
aligned local practices.
Further, beyond initial managerial framings, it is important to understand how
organizations respond to stakeholder critique and pressures over time. External and internal
actors are active agents (Cornelissen & Werner, 2014), with environmental practices and
activities open for translation in response to environmental and financial demands (Maguire &
Hardy, 2009). Considering these competing demands, firms face the risk of on-going internal and
external critique in how they engage with the grand challenge – from initial framings to
implementation of practices and evaluation of their success and failure. Thus, while corporate
leaders may initially use framing to manage tensions between market and environmental
discourses, the process through which framing informs practice and is upheld by involved actors
in subsequent evaluation of environmental practices remains unclear. Accordingly, the guiding
research question for this paper is: How do firms engage over time with competing demands in
translating complex social and environmental challenges into practice?
THE WICKEDNESS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Unlike most challenges that businesses face, climate change has become a highly charged and
partisan political issue intertwined with deeper ideological and cultural divisions (Hoffman,
2015; McCright & Dunlap, 2011). For instance, discussions about climate change in social and
political discourse often include competing economic, religious, national security, innovation,
environmental and governance frames (Ansari, Wijen, & Gray, 2013; Hoffman, 2011). Further,
despite overwhelming scientific evidence, organizational members may identify with climate
change movements or political parties that oppose action on climate change (Sonenshein,
DeCelles, & Dutton, 2014; Wright, Nyberg, & Grant, 2012). Corporate actors can expect to
simultaneously face criticism for supporting as well as opposing action on climate change. This
polarized debate also fuels the external volatility that influences corporate responses as they seek
to align conflicting stakeholder positions.
The “super wicked” nature of climate change further exacerbates the limitations of
substantive corporate responses to it. First, time is rapidly running out if humanity is to avoid
dangerous climate change (Anderson & Bows, 2011; IPCC, 2014). This temporal aspect is
important, in that corporations alone cannot deal with the increasingly costly problem, especially
not within quarterly or yearly reporting timeframes. Rather, climate change requires long-term
strategies beyond the commitments of individual leaders and champions. It is therefore crucial
that corporate climate change initiatives have longevity beyond their initial framings.
Second, while corporations are often viewed as the entities in the best position to address
climate change through technological and market innovation (Garnaut, 2008; Stern, 2007), they
are also major contributors to climate change. Corporations represent 40% of the world’s largest
economic entities with both revenues and greenhouse gas emissions dwarfing many national
economies (Heede, 2014; Patenaude, 2010). In a global economy based on economic growth and
fossil fuel-based energy, corporations have limited incentives to undertake radical
decarbonization and have resisted attempts to legislatively restrict emissions (Kolk & Pinkse,
2007; Levy & Egan, 2003). Internal champions are often left to argue against the maximization
of short-term profit that typically drives firm decision-making (Wright et al., 2012).
Finally, no central authority exists to deal with climate change. The global response has
been likened to “cooperation under anarchy” (Levin et al., 2012: 128), since it requires
coordination of different economic sectors, policy jurisdictions and industries at multiple
political levels. Even a global agreement would have insufficient legal authority to address the
implications for different states, sub-regional systems and industry-specific regulations.
Corporations thus face a complex external context in responding to this challenge.
Each of these features renders the process of translating climate change into strong
corporate responses particularly difficult, since doing so requires purposeful dedication to a
strategy in the face of competing critiques in an uncertain environment. In order to better
understand how businesses respond to the grand challenge of climate change, we explore how
firms engage with competing demands in translating this challenge into practice.
RESEARCH SETTING AND METHOD
Australia provides an ideal setting to explore how corporations have responded to climate
change. Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and natural gas and has among
the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions per capita among developed economies (Garnaut,
2008). Under conservative government rule from the mid-1990s, Australia adopted a minimalist
approach to climate change policy, viewing emissions mitigation as a threat to economic growth
and fossil fuel exports (Pearse, 2007). This was evident internationally, in Australia’s refusal
(along with the United States) to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
As outlined in Table 1, from 2005–2015 an increasingly partisan political debate raged in
Australia over climate change. By 2005–2006, opinion polling revealed that climate change had
become a primary area of public concern and political parties explored policy responses such as
carbon pricing. A change in government in 2007 highlighted this policy shift, with the incoming
Labor government led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd finally ratifying the Kyoto protocol and
committing to the introduction of a carbon emissions trading scheme. This policy focus
coincided with unprecedented extreme weather events including the “Black Saturday” bushfires
in Victoria in February 2009 in which 173 people lost their lives (Head, Adams, McGregor, &
However, failure to reach a global agreement at the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks,
conservative political opposition, and growing resistance from industry led to the deferral of
emissions trading. Narrowly holding on to power in the 2010 federal election, the minority Labor
government under Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the introduction of a fixed carbon
price as a prelude to a carbon trading system (Commonwealth of Australia, 2011). The
conservative opposition, with backing from the media, right-wing think-tanks and industry
groups, launched a highly effective public campaign against what was dubbed a “toxic carbon
tax” (Manne, 2011). This proved to be a key factor in the defeat of the Gillard government in the
2013 election. Under the new conservative leadership of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, climate
policies were disbanded and Australia became the first developed nation in the world to abolish a
price on carbon emissions.
Insert Table 1 about here
Within this fractious political context, Australian businesses sought to navigate not only
the uncertain regulatory context around carbon pricing, but also the risks and opportunities that
might come from moving towards a future low-carbon economy. Companies that had previously
taken widely divergent stances on climate change began to develop climate change specific
This paper forms part of a larger research project initiated by the authors in 2009 exploring the
strategies and practices businesses have developed in responding to climate change (for a
summary see Wright & Nyberg, 2015). Through interviews with executives, specialist managers,
industry groups and consultants in a range of large Australian corporations, we identified how
business responses to climate change involved both external political engagements (Nyberg,
Spicer, & Wright, 2013; Wright & Nyberg, 2014), as well as internal strategies and practices
aimed at improving eco-efficiency, developing new products and services, green workplace
cultures, and marketing themselves as environmentally-responsible organizations (Nyberg &
Wright, 2013, 2016). The initial focus of the project centered on how individual actors (Wright &
Nyberg, 2012; Wright et al., 2012) and firms (Nyberg & Wright, 2012, 2013) struggled with the
challenge of climate change.
However, an emerging theme from our earlier research was how initial strong corporate
engagement with the issue of climate change dissipated over time as contextual and internal
dynamics changed. This led to a new research focus; specifically how corporations engaged
longitudinally with social and environmental challenges in response to competing pressures. To
more fully explore this temporal adaptation in corporate climate response, we expanded our
earlier research and focused specifically on five firms as longitudinal and comparative case
studies. This involved extending our data collection by conducting follow-up interviews with key
informants in each organization to capture recent developments and feedback our earlier
findings, and gathering archival data and a comprehensive collection of media releases from each
organization over the time period of our investigation. This additional data collection allowed us
to create five in-depth case studies of major Australian corporations from different industries
over a 10-year period (2005–2015). In responding to the new research focus, we conducted a
new process of comparative data analysis from which we developed a model of the corporate
translation of grand challenges over time.
As outlined in Table 2, the five case organizations included: a leading energy producer
that was supplementing coal-fired power with renewable energy (EnergyCo); a major financial
services company that was factoring a price on carbon into its corporate lending (FinanceCo); a
global manufacturer that was reinventing itself as a green producer of renewable energy
technologies (GlobalCo); a large insurer focused on the financial implications of extreme
weather events (InsureCo); and a global media company that had embarked on an eco-efficiency
drive to become carbon-neutral (MediaCo). The cases were theoretically sampled for their
strategic engagement with climate change (Yin, 2003) and from different industries to yield more
generalizable explanations of patterns and relationships across the cases (Eisenhardt & Graebner,
2007). This strategic focus helped us formulate a theoretical explanation of the process, and the
companies’ distinct actions strengthened our conclusions (see Table 2 below).
Insert Table 2 about here
A first stage of data collection involved a systematic review of publicly-available sustainability
reports, webpages and presentations from each company, which resulted in an extensive
collection of textual data (see Table 3). To provide contextual detail for the longitudinal analysis
in this paper, we extended the document data collection back to 2000 in order to trace changes in
corporate leadership and understand the pre-history of these companies’ engagement with
climate change discourse.
A second stage of data collection began in 2010, when as part of our broader research
project we performed semi-structured interviews with a range of managers from the five
corporations, including sustainability specialists, senior managers and operational managers (see
Table 3 for details). We interviewed members from each organization during the period 2010–
2014 in order to understand change and continuity in organizational practices and thinking.
During these interviews, we asked each respondent to reflect on the historical context of the
company’s engagement with climate change before exploring the company’s current climate
change responses. For the longitudinal and comparative aspect, we conducted ten follow-up
interviews with key informants during 2015 to relate back our findings to case study participants
and confirm the latest developments in each organization (for a total of 70 interviews). Each
interview lasted between 50 and 120 minutes and was recorded and fully transcribed, providing a
rich and extensive source of qualitative data (amounting to over 1,620 pages of transcript).
In building each case study, we also accessed an extensive range of private
documentation including corporate strategy and policy documents, PowerPoint presentations,
communications, training documents and submissions to government on proposed carbon
regulation. In order to understand how the five cases responded to external pressures in regard to
their activities, we conducted a comprehensive search of all media releases from the five
organizations over the period 2005–2015, collecting any documents that mentioned “climate
change,” “environment” or “sustainability” during this period. We thus compiled an additional
body of textual data (172 media releases) across the 10-year time period which we included in
our analysis (see Table 3).
Insert Table 3 about here
The first stage of data analysis involved a detailed reading of the collected textual material
(interview transcripts, corporate documents and media releases) across the five cases. Through
this process, we developed case histories and timelines of the organizations and their climate
change practices, which we compared with the recent history of Australian and international
climate policy. As we mapped key dates and milestones over time, two consistent themes
emerged across the cases: (a) initially, companies made strong and diverse commitments to
address climate change; and (b) their efforts waned over time into “business as usual.” As we
delved into the B&NE literature to understand these emerging themes, we found explanations for
corporate engagement with climate change, but limited explanations of how strong commitments
are incorporated and eventually dissipate within conventional business practice.
During the second stage of the data analysis, we returned to the empirical material and
performed a process of “open coding” (Corbin & Strauss, 1990). Using the qualitative data
analysis software QSR NVivo, we coded for empirical themes around the practices, strategies,
narratives and discourses we had identified in the text. Initially, the process of labeling terms and
phrases in the empirical material was performed “in vivo” (Locke, 2001). After reading the data
multiple times, we combined segments of text reflecting similar wordings or activities into first
order categories, resulting in the classification of over 60 primary nodes. These nodes
represented engagement with climate change (e.g., “business case,” “innovation” or “risk”),
descriptions of activities and practices (e.g., “eco-efficiency,” “carbon pricing” or “new products
and markets”) and changes in approach (e.g., “back to basics,” “expanded focus” and “leadership
change”). Building from these initial first order codes, we then coded for similarities and
differences across the five cases to discern the main categorization of climate change in the
In the third stage, we used second-order or axial coding to search for patterns and
relationships within and between the first-order categories and the case studies (Strauss &
Corbin, 1998). We combined the categories into themes explaining how the categories related to
corporate activities and practices across the five cases. Through this analysis, we arranged the
nodes we had identified in our initial open coding within broader conceptually-informed
categories. We identified a range of higher order concepts related to the different processes and
practices through which companies engaged with climate change, including: ruling particular
understandings of climate change in or out (association and disassociation); developing roles,
products and services (incorporation); transforming different qualities into a common metric
(commensuration); promoting and marketing eco-business activities (proselytization); re-
emphasizing the dominant discourse of value creation (purification); and broadening corporate
sustainability objectives beyond climate change (dilution).
In the fourth stage, we applied these concepts back to our case histories of the five
organizations in order to discern how corporate responses to climate change changed over time.
By mapping the second-order themes to the case history timelines, we identified three stages of
the translation process (framing, localizing and normalizing). In the first stage, framing, senior
managers acted as interpreters, defining climate change as an important issue for their
organizations that was compatible with their business interests. The second stage, localizing,
involved senior and middle managers making new framings locally relevant by aligning the
challenge of climate change with local practices. The third stage, normalizing, involved decision
making throughout the firms that realigned earlier climate change initiatives with the dominant
organizational discourse of maximizing shareholder value. We provide the coding frequencies for
each of these concepts in each case over different time periods in Table 4.
Since these three stages were common to all five cases, we were able to compare process
dynamics over time (through the use of matrix coding queries in the NVivo software). Figure 1
represents the data structure that emerged from our analysis of how the case study corporations
responded to climate change, illustrating the first-order categories, the second-order themes and
the aggregate dimensions that served as the foundation of corporate responses to climate change
(Gioia, Corley, & Hamilton, 2013). Matching these against the coding frequencies (see Table 4)
confirmed that the process has three distinct stages which varied in timing between the cases.
However, while grounded coding describes the process over time, it does not offer an
explanation of how the five firms moved through the stages.
Insert Table 4 about here
Insert Figure 1 about here
Finally, using the aggregate dimensions of the three stages as a foundation, we returned to
the case histories to identify when and why firms moved between the different stages and altered
their activities and practices. This enabled us to map key events in the case histories to how
organizations responded to the critiques and pressures originating from socio-political and intra-
organizational contexts. While the grounded coding provided the aggregate dimensions, the
longitudinal aspect enabled us to identify and compare how the cases moved from one stage to
another. In Table 5, we provide definitions of the key concepts identified in our data analysis, and
in Figure 2, we provide a simplified illustration of how the grounded analysis maps onto the case
histories in explaining how the grand challenge of climate change was translated into “business
Insert Table 5 about here
Insert Figure 2 about here
As we describe in detail in the following sections, the key driver of change among the
three stages was critique from different stakeholders (such as shareholders and financial analysts,
the media, customers, employees, NGOs and the public) who drew upon various market and
social/environmental discourses in responding to each firm’s climate change initiatives. Thus,
firms initially engaged with climate change in response to public critique that business was a key
contributor to the climate crisis. These firms sought to overcome the tension between the
conflicting objectives of business as usual and the grand challenge of climate change by framing
the issue as business-friendly, thereby making competing interests appear compatible. However,
this led to further criticism and new tensions in the form of dissonance between corporate
framings and their local activities and practices. This led to our second stage of translation,
localizing, in which managers created local conventions that sought to satisfy the opposing goals
of business growth and environmental well-being. Creating roles, practices and products,
however, set in motion an evaluation process for these conventions, particularly from a market
discourse perspective. This triggered a third stage, normalizing, in which prior initiatives were
purified or diluted within other activities to provide clearer commercial returns. In each case, we
found that the meaning and practice of corporate engagement with climate change steadily
diminished and narrowed.
In the following sections, we summarize key patterns and significant events that unfolded
between 2005 and 2015 in each of the five case study organizations. We provide representative
supporting data for the second-order themes of the three stages of framing, localizing and
normalizing as well as the tension, dissonance and evaluation that the firms responded to (see
Tables 6, 7 and 8). The timing and content of the three stages differed for each firm based on
specific critiques and pressures from internal and external stakeholders (see Figure 2 and Table
Framing Climate Change as a Business Concern
Each of the five companies engaged with the issue of climate change during the early-mid 2000s
as a result of different external and public critique. For instance, at EnergyCo, a new cadre of
senior managers was aware of growing public pressure for low-emissions energy production and
the likelihood of government regulation of carbon emissions in the near future. Indicative of this
change in thinking, in 2005 the company commissioned a joint report with an environmental
NGO on low-emissions energy production. This led the company to focus on diversifying its
energy production portfolio towards renewable energy sources. In its 2006 sustainability report,
EnergyCo emphasized that “climate change is a critical issue facing us today, and [EnergyCo]
accepts the scientiﬁc consensus that greenhouse gases in our atmosphere need to be stabilised so
as to avoid ‘dangerous’ climate change.”
For FinanceCo, engagement with climate change was a response to recent banking
scandals and negative public sentiment towards financial institutions. In 2005, FinanceCo’s then
CEO joined with several other corporate executives to form a Business Roundtable on Climate
Change which commissioned research and advocated for government action to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions. Indicative of its growing focus on this issue, in 2008 FinanceCo
released a climate change position statement: “There is little doubt that climate change is one of
the defining issues of our time…We believe that climate change will have significant economic,
social and environmental impacts in the regions where we operate” (FC Climate Change Position
Statement, 2008: 2).
At GlobalCo, climate change formed a central part of the story through which the new
global CEO sought to reinvent the company and respond to the firm’s negative public image as a
large, uncaring and environmentally-destructive multinational. He identified various
“megatrends” that he believed would be central to the growth of the business into the 21st century
and could provide a more positive public image:
We started to look hard at sustainability and climate change in 2004 when we set up
an internal debate between two teams of PhDs from our research labs…[The CEO]
listened to them debate it and concluded, based on the science, that climate change is
real and caused by man. (GC Global Sustainability Manager speech, May 2011)
From a somewhat different angle, InsureCo’s focus on climate change evolved in reaction
to shareholder criticism following a series of storms, bushfires and a major drought that resulted
in significant claim payouts for the company. The chief risk officer explained: “we were slowly
getting more weather-related events and bigger claims in weather-related events and it was
costing us more money.” A new CEO was hired in 2001, and attention shifted to the risks of
climate change in upsetting traditional models of insured weather risk. As one of the company’s
former sustainability managers recalled: “[The CEO] used to joke about how lucky he was that
he’d had three 1 in 100 year events in his first 6 months at [InsureCo]! It just continued to focus
the lens on just how important climate change should be to insurers.” (IC01)
At MediaCo, engagement with climate change revolved around a public event in the
United States in 2007, where after hearing from other business leaders and prominent climate
activists, the global CEO decided “to give the planet the benefit of the doubt” and announced his
company’s implementation of a global energy initiative.
Thus in each company, senior managers embraced the topic of climate change largely in
response to growing social and environmental criticism of business activities, as well as
perceptions of a changing regulatory and physical context. However, engaging with the issue of
climate change also highlighted the underlying tension between existing business models and the
challenge of decoupling economic growth from its material impacts. In responding to this
tension, senior managers in each organization engaged in a process of framing to make
competing interests appear compatible and relevant in their organizational settings.
Senior managers associated climate change with specific meanings and issues while
ruling out more negative or threatening understandings (see Table 6). For example, at GlobalCo
climate change was strongly associated with “innovation”, “customers” and “opportunity.” As
one of the world’s largest manufacturers of industrial products, GlobalCo managers emphasized
how a focus on new clean technologies offered a way not only to respond to market and
regulatory risks, but also to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Moreover, this particular
framing promoted a vision of returning the company to its roots as a source of industrial
innovation and responded to social and environmental criticism by highlighting the positive
social role of the company in providing a more environmentally sustainable future for all.
Insert Table 6 about here
By contrast, at EnergyCo climate change was framed by senior managers around business
issues of regulation and risk. The core narrative focused on the changing regulatory context in
which a government-introduced emissions trading system was keenly anticipated. Indeed, the
company had begun to invest in low-emission renewable energy generation in anticipation of a
shift to carbon trading, and began to emphasize its future role in transitioning the country
towards a renewable energy future.
FinanceCo also associated climate change with risk and opportunity based on the likely
introduction of government-mandated emissions trading and reputational threats in the form of
criticism from NGOs and community members about the organization’s financing of fossil-fuel
developments such as coal mines and power plants. Rather than shying away from an association
with climate change, strategic documents at FinanceCo highlighted the leadership role it would
play in educating customers and society about opportunities in an increasingly carbon-
MediaCo also framed climate change within a risk discourse. As the company’s CEO
proclaimed in launching his company’s climate and energy initiative in 2007, “Climate change
poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can’t afford
the risk of inaction” (MC CEO Energy Initiative Statement). However, the call for action was
also associated by managers and strategy documents to the social role the company would play
in promoting improved energy efficiency and the business advantages of reduced energy
Finally at InsureCo, climate change was linked to the specific language of “extreme
weather.” As one of the country’s largest general and commercial insurers, changing weather
patterns were readily understandable within the framing of insurable and uninsurable risk. At the
same time, senior managers stressed the social role they could play in providing leadership on
climate change action. As the company’s former sustainability manager outlined: “The
environment became important to us because socially it was the driving issue of the
community…the community was saying we need leadership on climate change.”
However, framing also disassociated climate change from “doom and gloom”
interpretations that challenged business growth and corporate expansion. In a classic enunciation
of the win-win ethos, GlobalCo’s global sustainability manager said: “I can’t stress this enough.
We’re eliminating the false choice between great economics and the environment. We’re looking
for products that will have a positive and powerful impact on the environment and on the
economy” (GC Global Sustainability Manager speech, May 2011). Yet, for particular industry
sectors, some framings were seen as more applicable than others. At EnergyCo (unlike MediaCo)
for example, the link between climate change and emissions reductions was explicitly rejected,
given the company’s reliance on increasing electricity usage. As the sustainability manager
explained, “Our goal is to get more customers, which means we’re selling more energy. So that
kind of emission reduction target isn’t actually the most effective way that we can contribute to
dealing with climate change.” (EC04)
Thus, in this initial stage of framing, senior managers developed arguments that are
common in the “green business” literature: climate change is a strategic business issue providing
both business risks and win-win opportunities, and companies have a responsibility as social
leaders to respond to environmental challenges. The framing was produced through association
and disassociation, by which actors ruled in particular concerns that were organizationally salient
and ruled out alternative interpretations that challenged existing business models. As shown in
Table 6, these variations were shaped by each organization’s business and industry context.
Localizing the Framing in Practice
While framing was the first stage in the translation of climate change within corporations, new
critiques from both market and social/environmental discourses created additional tensions and
dissonance. Convincing stakeholders of the benefits of “greening” initiatives was never assured,
and in some cases critiques evolved amongst employees who felt their organizations’
environmental efforts lacked sincerity. For example, FinanceCo’s sustainability manager
confided that a plan to switch the car fleet to hybrid vehicles provoked employee outrage on the
company intranet as it was seen as a form of “greenwashing:” “So, yes, they [employees]
definitely hold us to account. They’re our toughest critics by far” (FC01).
The dissonance between the framing of climate change and corporate practices was also
critiqued in market discourses. For instance, at GlobalCo the decision to address climate change
through “green” innovation led to significant criticism from the company’s board of directors
and major industrial customers. As the local sustainability manager reflected: “[The CEO]
certainly got resistance from customers and others around the place, because it seemed very
green…there were some that weren’t pleased about it” (GC02). FinanceCo faced similar
criticism from corporate clients in the fossil fuel sector who objected to the company’s advocacy
for carbon pricing. The head of energy project finance explained: “So the coal mining sector’s
been really hard on the banks in terms of positions we make on coal. So there are industry groups
with vested interests that are clients of ours and we have to manage that conflict” (FC09). More
generally, managers from more operational parts of these businesses objected to the focus on
climate change as a distraction from core business.
Senior managers responded to critiques by reiterating earlier interpretations of climate
change and seeking to make initial framings locally relevant. They highlighted practices that
provided a temporary compromise between the competing market and social/environmental
discourses. As outlined in Table 7, in this localizing stage of the corporate translation of climate
change, the purpose of incorporation, commensuration and proselytization was to make climate
change real and tangible for operational managers through everyday business activities.
Insert Table 7 about here
Incorporation. A first step in the localization of climate change in the five case
organizations involved translating the corporate acknowledgement of climate change into more
tangible practices and activities, including, for instance, focusing on the development of new
products and services. For example, at GlobalCo, helping “our customers to tackle their most
pressing environmental challenges” found ready expression in the development of new
“cleantech” products such as the development of wind turbines, solar technologies, and more
efficient energy generation.
Beyond a focus on new products and markets, incorporation also involved new activities
that improved eco-efficiency by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy usage. This was
apparent at MediaCo, where the CEO’s initial focus on climate change as an emerging threat was
quickly translated to cutting the company’s carbon footprint and achieving carbon neutral status.
The resulting organization-wide program of eco-efficiency focused on employees finding ways
to change production processes in order to reduce carbon emissions.
A further theme in incorporating climate change into practice was the emphasis
companies placed on issues of innovation and research and development. Viewing climate
change as both a risk and an opportunity drove companies to invest in developing new
capabilities that would enable them to better prepare for future possibilities. For instance,
InsureCo employed climate scientists and technical experts to model future weather patterns and
research the resilience of building construction to threats such as hailstorms and bushfires.
Likewise, specialist sustainability roles and functions were created to oversee new
activities and practices. At FinanceCo, for instance, a central sustainability team oversaw
emissions reporting and provided expert advice on climate risks and opportunities to different
operational areas such as investment banking. A similar model of specialization was evident at
EnergyCo, where sustainability managers led the company’s investment in renewable energy
projects, crafted climate-related internal and external communications, and advised senior
managers on potential regulatory changes in emissions trading.
Commensuration. Having made the link between climate change and established
business activities, a second element of localizing stressed how these practices could be assessed
as meaningful measures of corporate value. As noted above, a common practice focused on eco-
efficiency and reducing energy usage which could be readily translated into cost savings.
However, commensuration also involved new measures of corporate value. For instance, at
FinanceCo, an internal price on carbon was developed by a project team to factor in the likely
future regulatory charge of a certain number of dollars per ton of carbon emissions. This metric
was then used in investment decisions and global markets where carbon trading was already
While commensuration took diverse forms across the five organizations (e.g., savings
from reduced energy consumption, measures of increased employee satisfaction and
engagement, sales figures from new “green” products and services, carbon pricing), managers
were careful to emphasize specific metrics that could justify the investment of time and money in
climate change-related activities, specifically in response to market critiques. As GlobalCo’s
local CEO confided: “I’m going to be real frank herewe’re not doing this to save the planet.
That’s not the driver. We’re industrialists” (GC10).
Proselytization. Having identified various activities, practices, products and metrics for
corporate engagement with climate change, a third element of localizing involved
communicating these practices and justifying them to a diverse range of stakeholders. Such
proselytization took various forms. For instance, at MediaCo, the focus on eco-efficiency
resulted in a branded company-wide communication strategy and culture change program which
proclaimed that “everybody can make one degree of difference.” This was combined with the
creation of “carbon councils” amongst the company’s different business units, and staff
competitions for improving energy efficiency. As the company’s environment manager
explained: “That inspires others and it gets things done. It’s a fantastic tool. It’s how behavioral
change happens on sites.” (MC15)
Proselytization also involved engagement with external stakeholders such as customers,
clients, NGOs and political parties. This was particularly the case at EnergyCo and FinanceCo,
where the issue of regulatory change had major business implications. Both of these firms
became strong advocates for the government introduction of an emissions trading scheme which
they viewed as critical to providing business certainty for future investment. They communicated
this policy stance through workshops, conferences and external publications. A sustainability
manager at EnergyCo explained, “We’ve been advocating really strongly for things like the
renewable energy target, really, really strongly for the CPRS [carbon pollution reduction scheme]
where a lot of our counterparts are silent” (EC04).
Thus, throughout this second stage of localizing, managers sought to align their initial
framings of climate change with more specific business activities and practices. As outlined in
Table 7, while the five case organizations varied in their emphases, each enacted elements of
incorporation, commensuration, and proselytization. Through these activities, corporations could
respond to accusations of dissonance or greenwashing by identifying substantive changes in
business practices and highlighting how these practices appeared to both provide sound business
returns and respond to a pressing social and environmental challenge.
Normalizing Corporate Practices
Localizing the framing of climate change enabled corporations to respond to both market and
environmental critiques. However, shifting business fortunes, internal corporate politics and
changes in external political discourses resulted in further criticism. Unlike earlier stages, market
discourses became more dominant, leading to focused evaluations and tests of earlier corporate
climate commitments. In particular, shareholders, managers and financial analysts increasingly
questioned the ability of localized activities and practices to satisfy market interests (e.g.,
reduced costs, increased revenue and profitability). These evaluations led to a new stage of
translation that we have termed normalizing. In this stage, the temporary compromise between
market and social/environmental discourses was broken and corporate executives sought to
realign climate initiatives with the dominant market discourse of maximizing shareholder value.
Within this stage, we identified two principal activities: purification and dilution (see Table 8).
Insert Table 8 about here
Purification. One response to the market critique of corporate climate initiatives involved
stripping back earlier climate change commitments and re-emphasizing the need to respond to
traditional drivers such as profit growth, cost reduction and maximizing returns to shareholders.
For example, in 2008, as a result of a failed overseas expansion, stagnant growth and a falling
share price, shareholder criticism led to the resignation of InsureCo’s CEO and the installation of
a new executive team to turn the company around. The earlier compromise that climate change
actions would pay back in terms of market outcomes had been evaluated and found lacking. The
new CEO expressed skepticism about the company’s climate change advocacy and stressed the
need to “get back to basics.” As one of the company’s former sustainability managers recalled:
“So yeah, it was a total refocus…Linking it more to the financials, and removing ourselves from
the industry bodies around climate change” (IC01). Another former executive described the
change in the company’s attitude on climate: “Look, that was all a nice thing to have in good
times but now we’re in hard times. We get back to core stuff” (IC10).
Internal restructuring and purification was also evident at GlobalCo, where reduced
growth forecasts and stagnating sales resulted in major cost cuts in 2012 and a reassessment of
the focus on renewable energy and “cleantech” products. Once again, internal criticism of the
company’s eco-initiative and turnover of key senior managers who had championed the climate
focus led to a winding back of earlier initiatives. The former sustainability leader explained: “It
has always been a ‘sell your product every quarter’ sort of company...But we lost the company
officer leading it; it lost its profile and now the website’s gone” (GC04).
Beyond changing corporate fortunes and the failure of climate initiatives to demonstrate
clear financial returns, purification was also driven by broader changes in the external political
discourse. During the period 2010–2013, in response to a fervent public campaign by
conservative politicians, industry lobbyists and right-wing media against carbon pricing and
climate change action, many corporations stepped back from the public spotlight on this issue.
For many managers, climate change became controversial with attendant reputational risks. At
the height of the political debate, the head of government relations at FinanceCo explained:
“How we deal with sensitivities within the organization about taking what can be seen as a
partisan position in a highly political environment…that’s the challenge at the moment” (FC10).
Indeed, the changed political context towards climate action coincided with corporate
leaders recanting their earlier advocacy on the issue. At MediaCo, the company’s CEO now
publicly questioned climate science and the urgency of climate change, while media observers
noted the increasing intensity with which the company promoted climate change skepticism in its
publications. Declining public concern over climate change appeared to reduce the business case
for engaging with the issue and indeed the company’s publications now appealed to growing
public skepticism about climate change as a source of sales.
Dilution. Beyond just a narrowing of corporate focus on shareholder value, normalizing
also involved enmeshing the earlier attention to climate change within a broader range of
concerns. We labeled this process dilution and it was evident in all of our case organizations as a
response to the changed external and internal discourses on climate change. For instance, at
GlobalCo, dilution was apparent in the recalibration of the company’s eco-innovation focus to
include fossil fuel industries such as hydraulic gas fracturing (i.e., “fracking”) and tar sands
extraction. Rapid global growth in these industries provided significant markets for GlobalCo
products and the company characterized its involvement in these industries as a way of
continuing to solve “tough environmental challenges” by improving efficiency (GC Fact Sheet
2014). One senior manager explained: “We are pointing more R&D dollars towards natural gas.
Really making sure that we have the social license to operate, that we are working on tough
problems around gas” (GC05). Despite criticism from environmental NGOs that these fossil fuel
industries contribute to increased greenhouse gas emissions, company executives defended their
new positions by arguing that their focus was broader than just climate change.
A similar trend was evident at EnergyCo, which despite its earlier focus on renewable
energy generation, in 2012 purchased the country’s largest coal-fired power plant at a reduced
price, expanded its investments in coal seam gas production and later argued against renewable
energy targets. Dilution was also evident at MediaCo, where the focus on “carbon” and “climate”
became less apparent within a broader focus on “environment,” “waste reduction” and “water
use.” The company’s sustainability manager explained: “We’ve broadened what we do. It’s no
longer confined to just an energy and carbon focus” (MC14). In widening the scope of corporate
initiatives to “sustainability,” the earlier emphasis on climate change dissipated in favor of more
immediate and profitable concerns. Indeed, in some cases the term “climate change” disappeared
altogether from corporate reporting. The sustainability manager at InsureCo commented: “In
fact, if you look at our sustainability report, I challenge you to find the words ‘climate change’…
You know, a bit of a cop-out” (IC07).
Dilution thus served to defuse politically contentious issues by submerging them within a
range of related concerns that could be more easily accommodated within prevailing corporate
discourses. In particular, the idea of advocating for carbon regulation and emissions mitigation
was increasingly replaced by a view that climate change was now inevitable and businesses
should focus on adapting to the new physical environment that climate change would bring. At
FinanceCo, this involved linking climate change to what was now termed the “2 degree
economy,” while at InsureCo, the focus was on mapping vulnerable communities, identifying
“uninsurable” areas and pushing for local adaptation to increasing floods, droughts and fires.
Normalization thus enabled senior managers to respond to the market critique and
evaluation that engaging with climate change distracted from the core purpose of maximizing
shareholder value, particularly in circumstances of financial stress, new investment opportunities
and a changed political context. Of course, this move also opened these organizations to further
criticism from the media, NGOs and employees that they had failed to honor earlier
commitments to climate action or that their current focus on environmental sustainability
amounted to nothing more than greenwashing. However, while offering the potential for a fresh
round of corporate climate change engagement, this final stage of normalizing highlighted how
the evaluation of market worth appears to be a more fundamental concern within corporations
than environmental concerns.
A GROUNDED MODEL OF BUSINESS RESPONSES TO GRAND CHALLENGES
In the previous sections, we described the analysis of how five case organizations responded to
climate change over 10 years (see Figure 2 for key events). In this section, we present a
grounded model of the processes in order to theorize how corporations respond to grand
challenges. The model builds on the conceptualization in the B&NE literature of how
corporations respond to environmental problems by strategically framing competing demands in
ways that uphold the tension between the market and the environment (Hahn et al., 2014; Van
der Byl & Slawinski, 2015), and enact this framing through activities and practices (Bansal,
2003; Crane, 2000; Delmas & Toffel, 2008; Hoffman, 2001; Howard-Grenville, 2006; Sharma,
2000). These studies draw attention to the importance of local actors in making sense of the
problem and the role of current functions and structures in implementing practices. Our model
builds on these insights by demonstrating how competing demands are subject to continuous
critique over time, revealing tensions, dissonance and evaluations that trigger firm activities to
resolve them. The findings of our five cases suggest that initial corporate commitments to grand
social and environmental challenges inevitably conform to short-term market assumptions (see
Figure 3). The model also highlights potential alternative responses (indicated by dotted arrows).
Although the concept under scrutiny (climate change) and the revelatory five case studies have
unique features, we argue that the patterns in the model also characterize the underlying
limitations of corporate engagement with other grand challenges which are converted into
business as usual formulations.
Insert Figure 3 about here
From Grand Challenge to Business as Usual
As illustrated in Figure 3, the first stage in the translation of grand challenges within the
corporate arena is triggered by highly publicized events and foremost based on social or
environmental concerns (Hoffman & Ocasio, 2001) (thick arrow in model). As outlined in our
findings, senior managers in all five case studies sought to respond to external critiques from
government, NGOs, the media and consumers in regard to their contributions to the climate
crisis. In this initial framing stage, executives explicitly associated the grand challenge of climate
change with conventional market discourses (e.g., climate change as a business opportunity for
innovation and leadership, an impetus for managing risk, a way to better respond to customers).
At the same time, these issue framings were used to disassociate their organizations from aspects
of social/environmental discourses that threatened existing business models by, for instance,
rejecting the need for government regulation, playing down perceptions of being “green” or
altruistic, and even (in the case of EnergyCo) rejecting the need to reduce carbon emissions!
Thus our model provides support for the role of framing and win-win rhetoric as a key
part of the initial corporate response to social and environmental challenges. Indeed, while not
evident in our case study data, it seems entirely possible that many firms might well reject this
initial framing attempt (what we have termed “dismissing” in Figure 3). While our case
companies were amongst the most proactive organizations in Australia in responding to the issue
of climate change during this period, the vast majority of companies were far less engaged, with
many either ignoring or rejecting climate change as an issue of concern for their organizations
(Nyberg et al., 2013). However, dismissing a grand challenge does not resolve the initial tension
and businesses that do so are likely to continue to face criticism.
Framing is only the first step in the organizational translation of grand challenges. These
initial positions are not fixed, and indeed produce further tensions and dissonance as they are
subjected to new criticism based on market or environmental discourses. For instance, the claim
that a social or environmental problem is a strategic business concern can be readily challenged
in terms of its relevance for a specific business and contribution to bottom line results. That is,
engaging in corporate environmentalism may distract the organization from the core business or
reduce shareholder returns (Devinney, 2009). As outlined in our findings, this led to a second
stage of translation which we termed localizing. Senior and operational managers who engaged
in localizing sought to satisfy the opposing goals of business growth and environmental well-
being by creating local conventions and practices. This process includes the activities of
incorporation, commensuration and proselytization aimed at responding to critique by
demonstrating how the initial framings of climate change could be operationalized in practices
that respond to both market and social/environmental concerns.
Of course there is also potential here for an alternative process, which while not dominant
in our data appears in other critical accounts of corporate “greening” (Crane, 2000; Fineman,
1997). What is termed “splitting” (Lewis, 2000) in Figure 3 refers to the possibility that
organizations may fail to localize their earlier framings of social/environmental issues in practice
and rely on a purely rhetorical response. This aligns with the radical criticism of corporate
environmentalism as greenwashing, a mostly symbolic activity lacking tangible practice (Bowen,
2014). Claims by car companies and airlines that they “offset” the carbon emissions of the
products their customers purchase are good examples of splitting practices and the disconnect
between the rhetoric and substance of corporate environmentalism (Lyon & Montgomery, 2015).
While the normative and critical NCE literatures acknowledge the framing and localizing
elements of our proposed model, often omitted from existing analyses is the potential for the
deterioration of such initiatives. While localizing provides a temporary compromise in seeking to
balance competing demands, over time these tensions often return, particularly in circumstances
characterized by financial contraction, threats to corporate profitability and changing political
contexts. Newly localized practices are subjected to renewed market critique through the process
of evaluation. Practices must contribute to corporate profitability and shareholder value as
“obligatory passage points” for the continuation and maintain their fit with prevailing market
discourses (Callon, 1986; Denis, Langley & Roulau, 2007). If they do not satisfy these market
tests (thick arrow in model), then in the third stage of normalizing they are subject to purification
and/or dilution. As we have seen, this often involves the turnover of senior managers who have
championed climate change action, as well as the unwinding of localized practices in a return to
the core business. The translation of the grand challenge into business as usual thus concludes; in
several of the corporations we studied, even the term “climate change” was expunged from the
corporate lexicon. The processual cycle thus opens up new potential tension between the grand
challenge and business as usual.
Importantly, this shift may not be direct or straightforward. For instance, companies that
are promoted as best practice examples of corporate environmentalism with a longer history of
activity may in fact undergo multiple stages of evaluation, creating temporary compromises in
order to satisfy market tests in the short-term and delay normalizing. In Figure 3, we label this
hypothetic possibility “embedding” (see also Smith & Lewis, 2011), foreseeing the potential for
multiple circuits of evaluation in which corporate environmental initiatives are integrated into
business processes to generate competitiveness (Vilanova, Lozano, & Arenas, 2009). However,
the tensions are not resolved, only deferred (Putnam, Fairhurst, & Banghart, 2016), and
eventually provide the seeds for later forms of change towards normalization (Seo & Creed,
2002). While alternative business structures such as benefit corporations offer potential in
managing these conflicting tensions (Hiller, 2013), the fiduciary duty of corporate managers to
stockholders over and above other stakeholders places real constraints on the ability of
organizations to meaningfully satisfy the needs of the market and the environment over time.
By providing a longitudinal and comparative examination of how five Australian firms
responded to climate change, we have elaborated a theoretical model of how grand challenges
are translated into corporate practice. The model clarifies the competing perspectives on how
corporations respond to environmental challenges in the B&NE literature by elucidating three
stages corporations go through in responding to different pressures continuously revealed
through critique. In this final section, we discuss the implications of our findings for the B&NE
literature and for debates on climate change. We then outline some of the limitations of the study.
Contributions to Theory
Previous research suggests that companies’ environmental practices are shaped by different
external and internal pressures or critiques (Delmas & Toffel, 2008; Howard-Grenville, 2006).
This creates tensions that trigger organizational transformation (Hart, 1995; Hoffman, 1999),
with managers framing environmental challenges within the business paradigm in order to
address these tensions (Bansal & Roth, 2000; Sharma, 2000). While current B&NE literature
supports combining competing demands in organizational practices (Gao & Bansal, 2013), our
model suggests a regressive pattern towards traditional business concerns over time. Our
translation model offers several theoretical contributions in this regard.
First, we show how continuous critique of corporate practices drives the translation of
social and environmental issues towards business as usual. Critique reveals and makes salient the
tensions between competing demands that are temporarily papered over by managerial framings
and localized conventions. Even embedding social or environmental concerns within practices
does not resolve the tensions, but merely represses their opposing discourses. Moreover, when
firms are evaluated, they tend to move towards more secure options. While corporate
engagement with specific environmental issues ebbs and flows in response to varying social and
political discourses, market discourses are an enduring feature of business. If short-term
profitability cannot be guaranteed by social and environmental initiatives, firm practices will
regress towards market imperatives over time through the normalizing process. Certainly,
businesses can successfully engage with relatively tame environmental problems that are
resolvable through specific technical activities that also support profitability (Rittell & Webber,
1973). However, engaging with grand challenges such as climate change is particularly
problematic for businesses, given the long-term, complex nature of such problems and the
underlying tension between economic growth and its material consequences.
Second, our study highlights the urgent need to explore corporate environmentalism over
longer time horizons. While a few existing longitudinal studies on corporate environmentalism
highlight forms of framing and localizing (see e.g. Bansal, 2003; Howard-Grenville, 2007), they
do not account for how these practices are continuously evaluated to satisfy both
environmental/social and market demands. As such, the normative B&NE literature is
conceptually built on early synergies and “low hanging fruit,” such as energy savings and eco-
efficiencies, which do not challenge market discourses of growth and profit maximization. These
often creative solutions engage competing demands simultaneously (Smith, 2014). However,
they do not resolve competing demands because they cannot integrate costly social and
environmental challenges within the organizational goal of short-term profit maximization.
Rather, these entrepreneurial compromises support and reproduce the power of business firms
and dominant market discourses in addressing grand challenges (York, Hargrave, & Pacheco,
2016). Our model thus challenges B&NE scholars to more fully explore the degree to which
social/environmental and market objectives can be balanced beyond short-term corporate
outcomes and how such a process can be maintained over time.
Third, our research supports previous conclusions that organizational framing of social
and environmental issues seldom radically transforms business practice (Crane, 2000; Jermier et
al., 2006; Starkey & Crane, 2003). However, our study also contests the assumptions in the
critical literature that environmental activities are simply ceremonial green façades (Forbes &
Jermier, 2002) within which cynical organizational actors placate environmental critique to
legitimate business interests (Crane, 2000; Fineman, 1997). The managers we interviewed, were
for the most part, emotionally invested and morally concerned about the social and
environmental consequences of climate change. However, they were also well aware of their
limited room to maneuver, and that if they did not fulfill market demands they would be
replaced. These managers were pragmatic, rather than cynical or naïve. They recognized the
tension between meaningful engagement with the grand challenge of climate change and an
organizational focus on short-term profitability. Thus, while the outcome of our model converges
with the more critical tradition of B&NE, it is important to note the more complex motivations
underpinning corporate engagement with environmental issues and the role of competing
discourses on the actions of corporate managers.
This also challenges recent thinking on social and environmental challenges which
suggests that managers may be simply unaware of how to achieve their commitments (Bromley
& Powell, 2012; Crilly, Hansen, & Zollo, 2016). To the contrary, managers accept, albeit
sometimes reluctantly, that their role involves the politics of “dirty hands” and the impossibility
of governing innocently (Nyberg & Wright, 2013). They recognize that their interventions can
readily be dismantled in the event of a dip in profits or market share, opposing investment
opportunities, or changes in the political and legislative context. Thus, the individual
commitment of managers to grand challenges is in many cases authentic, and it is at this level
that we perhaps see the greatest benefit of their work. By spanning organizational boundaries and
collaborating with peers from other organizations, NGOs and social movements,
environmentally-concerned managers provide support for more far-reaching political responses.
In these arenas, environmental and social challenges are not so readily opposed by the daily
organizational evaluations of cost effectiveness and profit maximization.
Contributions to Policy and Practice
Our paper also provides a number of contributions to policy debates. In particular, our analysis
illustrates why the wickedness of grand challenges like climate change is particularly unsuited to
resolution solely through corporate responses. We highlight three specific factors that underpin
the limits of meaningful corporate action in response to many of the grand challenges facing the
world such as poverty and social inequality, environmental degradation and climate change, and
First, corporations are inherently unsuited to deal with issues that play out over the
medium to long term. Despite the discourse of business strategy, technological and financial
developments have resulted in the global corporation becoming increasingly focused on short-
term objectives and outcomes (most evident in the focus on quarterly and semi-annual reporting
and the shrinking tenure of executive managers) (Bansal & DesJardine, 2014). This temporal
disconnect is particularly evident in the case of climate change, where the impacts will play out
over coming decades with increasing intensity. This is a timescale of change which corporations
are unable to internalize within increasingly short-term business models. As we saw in our cases,
all firms had problems maintaining a coherent approach to climate change in the decade of our
inquiry, given both internal organizational changes (e.g., declining financial performance,
leadership changes) and a fluctuating external context (e.g., political, regulatory and
technological changes). Thus, due to their long-term nature, grand challenges are readily
discounted by businesses in favor of more immediate problems and opportunities.
Second, while corporate capacity for technological and market innovation is often
invoked as a solution to a range of global challenges, businesses are also often complicit in
causing the very problems they are asked to solve. Again this conflict is particularly evident in
the case of climate change in that corporate reliance on economic growth and fossil-fuel based
energy is the central contributor to escalating carbon emissions. Avoiding dangerous climate
change requires the radical decarbonization of energy, transportation and manufacturing on a
scale that is historically unprecedented and incompatible with economic growth (Anderson &
Bows, 2011). Among the corporations we studied, even firms that were relatively progressive on
this issue explicitly discounted the idea that responding to climate change should involve
activities that threaten growth and existing business activities. Businesses thus have a strong
interest in translating grand challenges away from outcomes that challenge their profit-making
abilities, while emphasizing responses that can be aligned with value creation.
Third, meaningfully responding to many of the grand challenges facing the world
requires systemic intervention based around central authority. Nation states have traditionally
confronted major crises such as wars and economic depressions through active government
intervention and the regulation of economic and social activity. However, in the current age of
neoliberalism, the role of government is explicitly rejected in favor of market solutions and
corporate innovation (Crouch, 2011). Indeed, the political strata have become increasingly
subservient to corporate interests (Barley, 2007). Governments increasingly favor economic
interventions that ensure profit maximization, irrespective of the social and environmental costs.
Rather than government intervention and regulation of social and economic activities, grand
challenges (and their “solutions”) are inevitably couched in the language of markets and free
enterprise. This broader political context further supports the corporate translation of grand
challenges into business as usual. If corporations are the key agents in responding to various
grand challenges, then perhaps unsurprisingly they cast the problem in their own image and
enact it within existing understandings and activities. This highlights the importance of
diminishing the influence of short-term interests in both political (Lazarus, 2009) and
organizational contexts by, for example, limiting corporate political influence and encouraging
long-term corporate planning and incentives (Slawinski, Pinkse, Busch, & Banerjee, 2015).
Our study also has a number of limitations. First, we have used five organizational case studies
to theorize business responses to climate change. All of the organizations we studied were
actively responding to climate change, which suggests that we need to be careful in generalizing
our findings. While focusing on more proactive firms provided an opportunity to understand the
processes through which this grand challenge was translated, future research is needed to
investigate organizational dynamics in businesses that reject or dismiss this issue, particularly as
the physical and political ramifications of the climate crisis worsen. Similarly, the political nature
of the concept of climate change also suggests the need for care in translating the model to other
areas. Less contentious issues can arguably be addressed without continuous criticism purifying
or diluting a challenging concept (Hahn et al., 2014). These tensions may even be upheld and
addressed through entrepreneurial activities which can benefit a firm (Marcus, 2015).
Second, focusing on the internal processes of translation, our explanation is limited to
organizational activities and practices. For-profit corporations operate within a market, where
profit motives and growth are rarely questioned. There are thus globally dominant discourses at
work making any challenges to growth and profit seem naïve. While these discourses are
accounted for in the model within critique, further analysis of the explanatory power of these
discourses would augment our understanding of corporations’ failure to act on climate change.
Finally, focusing on the translation process within corporations makes us partially blind
to the societal and global process of climate change translation. As mentioned previously, climate
change is a polarizing concept that is hotly debated in countries like Australia and the United
States. This is largely due to the corporate political activities of fossil fuel corporations, right-
wing media, and sponsored think-tanks (McCright & Dunlap, 2011). Broad social acceptance of
climate change as a clear and present danger would suggest more effective corporate action in
emissions mitigation. The process of translation would thus arguably appear somewhat
differently in a society with less polarized debate or within different political regimes.
Human-induced climate disruption has rapidly emerged as an existential crisis for humanity.
After two centuries of industrialization, humans have become a force of nature, changing the
very chemistry of our atmosphere and oceans. The consequences of our escalating exploitation of
fossil fuels and the destruction of forests and carbon-rich resources could not be starker. As
Elizabeth Kolbert (2006: 189) remarked, “It may seem impossible to imagine that a
technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we
are now in the process of doing.”
Facing such a crisis requires radical changes in how our society and economy function.
However, while business innovation and market-based solutions are promoted as central to the
climate response, change to date has been limited and corporate actions often regress to business
as usual. In this paper, we have argued that a major reason for this lack of progress is the way in
which climate change is translated within major corporations. Even amongst strong
organizational proponents of the need to respond to the climate crisis, our research reveals an
almost inevitable process of converting such concerns into the more familiar and less threatening
discourses of profit maximization and shareholder value. This suggests that business leadership
on climate change alone is insufficient to provide the dramatic decarbonization needed to avoid
dangerous climate change. Business and technological innovation is an essential part of the
climate response; however, as a systemic issue, climate change also needs regulatory guidance to
ensure significant and permanent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Organizations and
economies must be managed within the limits of planetary boundaries requiring societal
governance for the collective good. While climate change is an unparalleled threat to the future
of our society, we need to imagine a future that goes beyond the comfortable assumptions of
business as usual. It is this societal response that represents perhaps the grandest challenge we
face as a species.
Context of Australian Climate Change Debate, 2005–2015
24 Nov 2007 National election: Federal Labor Government elected under Prime Minister
12 Dec 2007 Australia ratifies the Kyoto Protocol.
30 Sep 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Report released, advocating for the introduction of an
emissions trading scheme (ETS).
7 Feb 2009 “Black Saturday” bushfire in Victoria (173 deaths); public debate ensues over
links to climate change.
14 May 2009 ETS legislation introduced into Parliament.
18 Dec 2009 UN 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) concludes in Copenhagen without a
binding agreement on climate action.
2 Feb 2010 ETS legislation rejected in Parliament.
27 Apr 2010 Government delays the introduction of carbon pricing until the end of 2012.
21 Aug 2010 National election: Labor Party retains power in a minority government alliance
with the Greens Party.
Dec 2010–Jan 2011 Floods in Queensland affect 90 towns and over 200,000 people. Direct damage
estimated at $2.4 billion; 38 fatalities. Debate ensues over climate change
8 Nov 2011 ETS legislation passed by Parliament.
1 Jul 2012 Carbon pricing comes into effect.
Jan 2013 Climate Commission publicizes Australia’s “Angry Summer” (123 weather
records broken over a 90-day period, including the hottest January on record).
18 Sep 2013 National election: conservative LNP Coalition wins and assumes power under
Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
19 Sep 2013 Abbott Government abolishes the Climate Commission.
13 Nov 2013 Abbott Government introduces repeal bill for ETS and carbon pricing.
Jan 2014 Australia’s second “Angry Summer” (150 temperature records broken over 90
17 Jul 2014 Repeal of carbon pricing passed by the Senate.
Corporate Case Studies
Case Industry Employee
Description of climate change engagement
EnergyCo Electricity and
1,500 One of the country’s largest GHG emitters
Rebranded itself in 2005 as a “green” energy company
Invested in renewable energy generation (hydro, wind and solar) to supplement aging coal-
fired power stations
Began to advocate strongly for an emissions trading scheme and redesigned business
processes for carbon pricing in 2009
FinanceCo Banking 36,000 One of Australia’s largest financial institutions
Focused on environmental reporting since the mid-1990s and began to advocate strongly
for climate science and government pricing of carbon emissions in 2006
Established carbon trading and began to priced carbon risk in institutional lending in 2009
GlobalCo Manufacturing 5,600 New global CEO launched a focus on eco-innovation in 2004
Established targets for eco-innovation R&D, sales from eco-products and reductions in
carbon emissions and water usage
Developed eco-innovation challenges with partner organizations
InsureCo Insurance 15,000 In 2001, a new CEO focused corporate strategy on sustainability and climate change
Operationalized through R&D into climate change and extreme weather events in terms of
Began to advocate strongly for government action on climate change and carbon pricing in
MediaCo Media and
8,000 CEO launched focus on climate change in 2007
Emphasized reducing the company’s carbon footprint and improving energy efficiency
Implemented a culture change initiative aimed at achieving carbon neutral status
Data Source Material
EnergyCo 19 interviews; 412 pages of transcript
01 Lead of Electricity Workstream; 02 Business Partner, People and Culture; 03 Sustainability
Manager; 04 Manager, Sustainability Strategy; 05-06 Business Customer Commercial Manager; 07
Manager Greenhouse Reporting; 08 National Sales Manager; 09 Manager, Economic Policy &
Research; 10 Chief Economist & Head of Corporate Affairs; 11 Environmental Reporting Advisor;
12 Head, Wholesale Electricity; 13-14 Head, Carbon Price Implementation; 15-19 Head of
Sustainability reports 2006–2014; CPRS
submission; strategy and GHG policy
documents; (51 documents; 420 pp.);
media releases (49 documents; 61 pp.)
FinanceCo 14 interviews; 350 pages of transcript
01-04 Advisor Group Sustainability; 05-08 Director, Emissions & Environment; 09 Director, Carbon
& Energy Project Finance; 10 Senior Manager, Corporate Affairs & Sustainability; 11 Head of
Agribusiness; 12 Director, Carbon, Corporate & Institutional Banking; 13 Director, Infrastructure &
Utilities; 14 Manager, Group Sustainability
Sustainability reports, 2007–2014;
CPRS submission; financing sustainable
energy; climate change policy
documents (28 documents; 295 pp.);
media releases (52 documents; 65 pp.)
GlobalCo 10 interviews; 157 pages of transcript
01 Head of Business Development & Strategic Planning; 02-03 Commercial Director and Eco-
products Leader AUS/NZ; 04 former Head Eco-products AUS/NZ; 05 Global Director, Eco-
products; 06 Smart Grid Business Leader; 07 Corporate Communications Director; 08 Vice
Chairman; 09 Vice President Operations; 10 CEO AUS/NZ
Eco-products annual reports 2008–2013;
marketing and media reports (48
documents; 246 pp.); media releases (28
documents; 33 pp.)
InsureCo 11 interviews; 321 pages of transcript
01 former Sustainability Manager; 02 former Strategy Director; 03 Senior Advisor External
Relations; 04 former Director; 05 Manager, Natural Perils; 06 Senior Specialist, Sustainability; 07-08
Business Sustainability Manger; 09 former Sustainability Research Manager; 10 former Group
Executive, Culture & Reputation; 11 former Chief Risk Officer.
Annual reviews and sustainability reports
2006–2014; environmental sustainability
policy documents; PowerPoint
presentations (28 documents; 35 pp.);
media releases (21 documents; 29 pp.)
MediaCo 16 interviews; 389 pages of transcript
01 Editor in Chief; 02 Press Crew Supervisor; 03 Managing Editor; 04 General Manager; 05
Procurement Manager; 06 Creative Director; 07 Human Resources Director; 08 Director of
Corporate Affairs; 09 Group Organisation Development Manager; 10 Human Resource Manager; 11
Communications Manager; 12-15 Manager, Environment & Climate Change; 16 Assistant Manager,
Environment & Climate Change
Energy Reduction Plans 2009–2013;
CPRS submission; CEO climate change
statement; company energy initiative
statements; PowerPoint presentations;
staff survey reports (55 documents; 337
pp.); media releases (17 documents; 28
Total 70 interviews; 1,629 pages of transcript 377 documents; 1,819 pp.
Data Coding by Stages, Cases and Time Periods
Coding references n (%)
2004–2006 2007–2009 2010–2012 2013–2015
17 (20) 37 (45) 26 (31) 3 (4)
29 (22) 59 (46) 37 (29) 4 (3)
34 (28) 49 (40) 36 (30) 2 (2)
63 (74) 15 (18) 7 (8) 0 (0)
0 (0) 42 (75) 14 (25) 0 (0)
6 (10) 14 (22) 41 (65) 2 (3)
4 (2) 38 (23) 110 (67) 13 (8)
14 (8) 56 (30) 102 (55) 13 (7)
81 (74) 12 (11) 12 (11) 4 (4)
0 (0) 21 (20) 76 (72) 8 (8)
0 (0) 0 (0) 28 (45) 34 (55)
0 (0) 0 (0) 11 (24) 35 (76)
2 (2) 3 (4) 18 (22) 58 (72)
0 (0) 32 (52) 16 (26) 14 (22)
0 (0) 0 (0) 7 (24) 22 (76)
Key Concepts in the Organizational Translation of Climate Change
Concept Definition Application to climate change as
Tension Pressure resulting from engaging
with an issue that poses
competing goals and interests for
How to make the interests of the
business compatible with the
implications of climate change
Framing Interpreting, defining and
communicating an issue in order
to gain the support of external
and internal stakeholders
How to understand the challenge of
climate change as a business issue?
Association Ruling in particular
understandings when combining
Linking climate change to preferred
issues (e.g., a defined business case),
managing risks and maximizing
opportunities and win-win outcomes
Disassociation Ruling out undesirable features
of combined discourses
Rejecting certain themes when
engaging with climate change (e.g.,
sacrifice, the need for regulation, doom
and gloom prognoses or purely
Dissonance Criticisms of the discrepancy
between initial framing and
How to respond to
social/environmental and market
critiques of the organization’s framing
of climate change as an important
Localizing Making new framings locally
relevant through conventions that
find compromises between
How to align the challenge of climate
change with local practices?
Incorporation Developing new roles,
capabilities, products and
New sustainability roles, new products
and services which link business
success with environmental well-being
Commensuration Transforming different qualities
into a common metric
Savings from reduced energy
consumption, measures of increased
employee engagement, sales figures
from new green products and services,
Proselytization Promoting and marketing
activities for external and internal
Employee communications and culture
change programs, marketing of carbon
neutral status, public advocacy for
emissions trading, alliance building
with NGOs and government
Evaluation A further critique of local
conventions by evaluating the
practices in accordance with
social/environmental or market
How local responses to climate change
satisfy the demands of shareholder
Normalizing Realigning practices and
activities with dominant
How to adapt earlier climate change
initiatives in order to maximize
Purification Re-emphasizing the local and
singular dominant discourse
Back to basics approach, winding back
of eco-initiatives and climate advocacy
Dilution Broadening the focus and
objectives to include other
Widening of sustainability efforts
beyond climate, including
environmentally-harmful but profitable
Framing Stage of Climate Change Translation
Organization Enactment Indicative Examples
EnergyCo Tension “It (carbon regulation) has been spotted as a very big risk to our
industry. What we'd call internally a slow-burn mega shot. Take a
long time to turn up; when it does, kapow! So once you work out
what's inevitable, then you need to start preparing for it.” (EC10)
“[EnergyCo] commands significant market leadership in the
renewable generation space in Australia with its existing and
planned assets positioned to deliver immediate value upside under
a carbon constrained environment.” (EC press release, March
“That kind of response (advocating for renewable energy) is going
to have a far greater impact on the country and the world’s ability
to respond to the issues of climate change than us putting a target
in to reduce emissions by 10% from our power stations.” (EC04)
FinanceCo Tension “Part of the reason why we went down this path was because there
was a realization that we were incredibly out of step with
stakeholder expectations.” (FC01)
“As a financial institution with relationships right across society,
we will play a pivotal role helping our customers, employees and
the broader community shift to this low-carbon economy.” (FC
Climate Change Position Statement, 2007: 2)
“It is easy to dwell on the challenges, but we do believe that there
are exciting opportunities for companies with the courage to reach
out and grasp them.” (FC Climate Change Position Statement,
GlobalCo Tension “My environmental agenda is not about being trendy or moral. It's
about accelerating economic growth.” (GC CEO, 2006)
“Why? Because developing a cleaner, more secure, more efficient
infrastructure isn’t just a responsibilityit’s an opportunity to
solve new requirements for productivity in some of the world’s
largest markets; it will deliver big results for us and for any other
smart, forward-looking company.” (GC Global Sustainability
Manager speech, May 2011)
“(focusing on climate change) was too precious and it let
opponents think that if you had a green initiative, you didn't care
about jobs.” (GC CEO 2011)
InsureCo Tension “What will we do? What will happen? Long term, how are we
going to manage the risk around? You can't just extract yourself
from those markets.” (IC01)
“We were slowly getting more weather-related events and bigger
claims in weather-related events and it was costing us more
“You’re asking him or her to do something that seems to be
altruistic and we’re back in this debate about, ‘Hang on, that’s not
our responsibility.’” (IC10)
MediaCo Tension “Our audiences - hundreds of millions of people on five continents
- care about this issue.” (MC CEO Energy Statement 2007)
“Of course it saves money. So it has some very positive business
side effects as well as doing the right thing.” (MC08)
“So far, business has done more than government (on climate
change)…anything that’s happened in Australia has generally been
because business has done something.” (MC15)
Localizing Stage of Climate Change Translation
Organization Enactment Indicative examples
EnergyCo Dissonance “how do we best maximize for our customers and for
[EnergyCo] the value of the carbon price?” (EC05)
“We’ve been out there building wind farms, getting a lot of
development sites and working on that policy response.”
“We’d done a lot of in-house analysis, lots and lots of
modeling. We’ve got a massive carbon team that do modeling
on the impacts of Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.”
“As Australia’s largest energy retailer, we have continually
advocated policies that deliver increased clean energy
production and lower greenhouse gas emissions.” (EC
Sustainability Report 2008: 3).
FinanceCo Dissonance “You don't want to carve yourselves out of something that
actually makes sense… That is at odds with the economic
outcomes of some of my clients in the mining sector for
“The second part of it is we actually need a bespoke product,
which will help them through this new area or this new
transitional period. The carbon forestry is a good example of
that one.” (FC06)
“When our customers ask, we can point [to] them and say we’re
trading carbon. We can explain how the markets are working.
We make a price on carbon and we publish a price on carbon.”
“One of the single biggest things you can do tofrom a
reputation point of viewis position yourself as a leader, have
senior people talking about the issues.” (FC03).
GlobalCo Dissonance “I think some people thought it was too soft. GlobalCo's an
edgy company; this is a little bit of a soft initiative.” (GC CEO,
“While we’ve made terriﬁc progress reducing our own
environmental impact, we’re now committing to make our
company twice as energy efﬁcient by 2015.” (GC Sustainability
Report 2009: 4)
“As with all initiatives at GlobalCo, we placed bold business
metrics around it. We executed against these metrics and
delivered.” (GC Sustainability Report 2009: 3)
“We’ve now got groups of employees suggesting new ideas and
it’s great for employee buy-in and it’s great from an HR
perspective of the employee value position...You can get the
best people without paying best dollars.” (GC02)
InsureCo Dissonance “We've had some quite interesting discussions internally around
ethically it might be right to offer X, but actually, from a
profitability perspective, we're not making so much money.”
“At present [InsureCo] is continuing its pioneering hailstorm
modelling work and keeping abreast of any advances in
scientific understanding of extreme events and climate change.
Significant investment in research will lead to improved
understanding of the changing risk and will help to maintain a
viable industry.” (IC Climate Change Report: 10)
“From people selling insurance at branches, right through to
CEOs. We needed to have clear KPIs for everyone on
“The stuff we were doing on climate was getting huge traction.
Wherever [the CEO] spoke and I spoke we were being pulled
into all sorts of new environments and communities...We were
talking to the planning industry, we were talking to the building
industry and governments of all kinds were pulling us in.”
MediaCo Dissonance “We realized that we couldn’t just go out and say this is what
you should be doing and preaching. We realized that we had to
get our own house in order first.” (MC08)
“[MediaCo’s] energy audit program draws on existing
management practices, built around our ‘Carbon Councils’
which have been established at each business unit.” (MC
Environment Newsletter 2010: 5)
“[MediaCo] is now carbon neutral as the greenhouse gas
emission data has been verified and offsets purchased and
retired at the end of 2010…This makes our carbon impact
zero.” (MC Environment Newsletter 2010:1)
“At Carbon Council level where the enthusiasm is, you get a
mixture of drivers from climate change being the fundamental
thing that young people want to see achieved, to people simply
saying, ‘I’m a facilities manager and I want a lower bill on
Normalizing Stage of Climate Change Translation
Enactment Indicative examples
EnergyCo Evaluation “In an environment impacted by the high cost of capital,
shareholder returns as measured by underlying profit are
increasingly important.” (EC Sustainability Report 2013: 17).
(back to basics)
“I’m not even worried about climate change and how people
perceive us on that. I’m going into this with a mindset of
customers need to know exactly how much money they’re going to
“It’s definitely a challenge because it (purchase of a coal-fired
power station) is a bit of a change from what we’ve progressed in
the past. But there are commercial arguments about the need to
balance out our portfolio...being too heavily geared in specific
types of energy - renewables and so forth. So, it’s just about
ensuring that the message is meaningful.” (EC02)
FinanceCo Evaluation “So some of the business strategy in response to customer needs
are playing out differently to what we expected.” (FC04)
(back to basics)
“I don’t think we necessarily downsized the team, but we put them
onto other commodities of trading. So some of the lay knowledge
is still there, but they’re certainly not actively doing what they
were years ago because there’s no market.” (FC04)
“We support the shift to a more sustainable economic model that is
less dependent on fossil fuels while recognizing the importance of
responsibly managing the transition to support sustainable
economic development.” (FC Climate Policy 2014: 7)
GlobalCo Evaluation “But when the numbers started not being so good...Suddenly they
needed to reduce a lot of corporate costs because the sales weren't
“I wasn’t allowed to use the word ‘green’ towards the end.”
“We are believers in the role that technology can play to advance
operational efficiencies and improve environmental performance
in oil sands.” (GC press release Sept 2015)
InsureCo Evaluation “When you were sitting in strategy you thought that's a bit of a
stretch of the business to say its sustainability is good business
because it's all about sustaining shareholder value and paying
dividends in the future.” (IC02)
“I think it was the combination of they lost confidence in his
[CEO’s] ability to get growth out of the business. They associated
him too strongly with being an environmental climate change
leader, and shouldn’t he just be focusing on getting growth and
“It was not just around climate change, but it sort of morphed into
a sustainability message and then that morphed into a waste
reduction message. There were all sorts of initiatives that people
then started to take which basically resulted in the company saving
MediaCo Evaluation “There are other things now that are far more pressing to people
than the environment. People are more concerned about the cost of
living and how they’re going to pay their mortgage and how
they’re going to afford their bills” (MC08)
(back to basics)
“I don’t see much at all happening right now, at the time it was
great, there was a lot of push, people were talking about it. But
now it's fizzled pretty well right off.” (MC02)
“What we’ve talked about for the last 6 months is how we broaden
[the initiative] to engage broader sustainability issues aside from
just climate change and that fits with the goals that the [global
company] have set us.” (MC13)
Second-Order Themes Aggregate DimensionsFirst-Order Categories
Climate Change Translation within Corporations
Purchases coal power stations
mid-2012, argues for reduction of
RET (Feb 2014)
Positions itself as a leader in
renewable energy generation
Acquires wind and
Creates implementation team
for government carbon pricing
emissions trading scheme
Grand Challenge Translation within Corporations
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