Can CEO Activism Spark Sustainability Transitions? Evidence from a Field Experiment

33 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2016 Last revised: 26 Jan 2017

Aaron Chatterji

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business

Michael W. Toffel

Harvard Business School

Date Written: January 13, 2017

Abstract

Creating sustainability transitions will require more than companies taking proactive measures in their own operations and supply chains. Fostering significant change will also require business leaders to harness their power to call for public policy solutions, a challenging proposition in a politically polarized environment. This paper focuses on how CEOs engage in the political process to encourage government policies that will foster sustainability transitions and address other social problems. Distinct from nonmarket strategy and traditional corporate social responsibility, the recent wave of CEO activism focuses on social issues unrelated to their core business, ranging from environmental issues to LGBT rights and race relations. Using two field experiments we provide evidence on how CEO activism can influence public opinions about government policies and consumer attitudes about the CEO’s company. We conclude by providing a roadmap for future research on this emerging phenomenon.

Suggested Citation

Chatterji, Aaron and Toffel, Michael W., Can CEO Activism Spark Sustainability Transitions? Evidence from a Field Experiment (January 13, 2017). Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 16-100; Duke I&E Research Paper No. 16-11. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2742209 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2742209

Aaron Chatterji

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States

Michael W. Toffel (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617.384.8043 (Phone)

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