Cognitive Frames in Corporate Sustainability: Managerial Sensemaking with Paradoxical and Business Case Frames

Academy of Management Review, 39(4), 463-487. doi: 10.5465/amr.2012.0341

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 Last revised: 30 Sep 2014

See all articles by Tobias Hahn

Tobias Hahn

KEDGE Business School

Lutz Preuss

University of London - Royal Holloway College

Jonatan Pinkse

University of Manchester - Manchester Business School

Frank Figge

KEDGE Business School

Date Written: March 25, 2014

Abstract

Corporate sustainability confronts managers with complex issues and tensions between economic, environmental and social aspects. Drawing on the literature on managerial cognition, corporate sustainability, and strategic paradoxes, we develop a cognitive framing perspective on corporate sustainability. We propose two cognitive frames – a business case frame and a paradoxical frame – and explore how differences between them in cognitive content and structure influence the three stages of the sensemaking process, i.e. managerial scanning, interpreting and responding with regard to sustainability issues. We explain how the two frames lead to differences in the breadth and depth of scanning, to differences in issue interpretations in terms of sense of control and issue valence, as well as to different types of responses that managers consider with regard to sustainability issues. By considering alternative cognitive frames, our argument contributes to a better understanding of managerial decision-making regarding ambiguous sustainability issues and develops the underlying cognitive determinants of the stance that managers adopt on sustainability issues. This argument offers a cognitive explanation why managers rarely push for radical change when faced with complex and ambiguous issues, such as sustainability, that are characterized by conflicting yet interrelated aspects.

Keywords: Cognitive frames, business case, paradoxical thinking, corporate sustainability, sensemaking

JEL Classification: M10, M14

Suggested Citation

Hahn, Tobias and Preuss, Lutz and Pinkse, Jonatan and Figge, Frank, Cognitive Frames in Corporate Sustainability: Managerial Sensemaking with Paradoxical and Business Case Frames (March 25, 2014). Academy of Management Review, 39(4), 463-487. doi: 10.5465/amr.2012.0341, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2414423

Tobias Hahn (Contact Author)

KEDGE Business School ( email )

Domaine de Luminy - BP 921
BP 921
Marseille, PACA 13288
France
+33491827313 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.kedgebs.com

Lutz Preuss

University of London - Royal Holloway College ( email )

School of Management
Egham Hill
Egham, TW20 0EX
United Kingdom

Jonatan Pinkse

University of Manchester - Manchester Business School ( email )

Booth Street West
Manchester, M15 6PB
United Kingdom

Frank Figge

KEDGE Business School ( email )

Domaine de Luminy
BP 921 13288 Marseille Cedex 9, 13288
France

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