The Intentions with Which the Road is Paved: Attitudes to Liberalism as Determinants of Greenwashing.

46 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2014

See all articles by Thomas J. Roulet

Thomas J. Roulet

King's College London; University of Oxford - Said Business School

Samuel Touboul

IPAG Business School; HEC Paris (Groupe HEC) - Strategy & Business Policy

Date Written: February 25, 2014

Abstract

Previous literature has shown contradictory results regarding the relationship between economic liberalism at the country level and firms’ engagement in corporate social action. Because liberalism is associated with individualism, it is often assumed that firms will engage in mostly symbolic rather than substantive social and environmental actions; in other words, they will practice 'greenwashing'. To understand how cultural beliefs in the virtues of liberalism affect the likelihood of greenwashing, we disentangle the effects of the distinct and co-existing beliefs in the virtues of economic liberalism. We begin by conducting an exploratory qualitative analysis of managers’ sentiments on this matter, based on a focus group methodology. We then use these investigative elements to articulate a comparison of the conflicting theoretical arguments: in liberal contexts, are firms, as social entities, inherently selfish or pro-active when it comes to corporate social actions? We empirically test our hypotheses on a large-scale dataset. Finally, we show paradoxically that in countries where beliefs in the virtues of competition are strong, firms are more likely to greenwash, while in countries where beliefs in the virtues of individual responsibility are prominent, firms are more likely to focus on concrete actions. These findings suggest that in contexts where weak governments are seen as ideal, firms might feel the need to step in to fill institutional voids, in contexts in which competitive mindsets dominate, this tendency is counterbalanced.

Keywords: corporate social actions, greenwashing, economic liberalism, competition, individual responsibility, country-level institutions

Suggested Citation

Roulet, Thomas J. and Touboul, Samuel, The Intentions with Which the Road is Paved: Attitudes to Liberalism as Determinants of Greenwashing. (February 25, 2014). Journal of Business Ethics, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2401072

Thomas J. Roulet (Contact Author)

King's College London ( email )

Strand
London, England WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

University of Oxford - Said Business School ( email )

Park End Street
Oxford, OX1 1HP
Great Britain

Samuel Touboul

IPAG Business School ( email )

184 BD Saint Germain
Paris, 75006
France

HEC Paris (Groupe HEC) - Strategy & Business Policy ( email )

Jouy-en-Josas Cedex, 78351
France

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