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Faculty & Research


How to Encourage Business Professionals to Adopt Sustainable Practices? Experimental Evidence That the 'Business Case' Discourse Can Backfire

Journal Article
Appeals to companies to adopt more sustainable practices are typically either framed as a request to assume ‘responsibility’ towards society and the future of the planet, or as a ‘business case’(BC) for sustainability. The business case discourse emphasizes how sustainable practices can enhance (financial)business performance. The authors conducted a survey-based online experiment with business professionals to empirically explore the effectiveness of the two discourse types in motivating business actors to adopt more sustainable practices. The authors' results suggest that professionals believe that the business case discourse is more effective in encouraging businesses to engage with sustainability than the responsibility discourse. However, exposure to the business case discourse in the experiment did not lead these professionals to state a stronger motivation or intention to act in favour of sustainability within their organization. Furthermore, compared to the responsibility discourse, an appeal based on a business case discourse resulted in less approval for pro-environmental investments when these could not be justified by reputational benefits. Since effective measures to improve corporate environmental performance do not always involve win-win situations, the authors' results raise concerns about the use of the business case approach to encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices.

Affiliate Professor of Decision Sciences