Institutionalization as a Prerequisite for Sustainable Corporate Development

ORGANIZATIONS AND THE SUSTAINABILITY MOSAIC: CRAFTING LONG-TERM ECOLOGICAL AND SOCIETAL SOLUTIONS, S. Sharma, M. Starik, and B. Husted, eds., Cheltenham & Northampton: Edward Elgar, pp. 106-132, 2007

45 Pages Posted: 7 May 2007

See all articles by Frank Wijen

Frank Wijen

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Rotterdam School of Management (RSM)


Numerous companies have embraced sustainable development or, similarly, corporate social responsibility as a guiding principle. While the adoption of this principle is important, the realization of sustained performance progress towards more sustainable business is a tremendous challenge which many academics and practitioners have sidestepped. This chapter examines the dynamic forces promoting and thwarting the development of a company pursuing sustainable business. I draw on an extensive case study of a large multinational food company committed to the achievement of environmentally sustainable business, whose performance initially rose and subsequently regressed. Analyzing the case through the lenses of stakeholder power and organizational learning, I conclude that sustained progress towards sustainable business ('institutionalized sustainability') requires: (i) a high and widely shared environmental ambition; and (ii) well-embedded environmental practices. Companies which emphasize only the ambition dimension, leading to an 'idealist sustainability quest,' or merely the embeddedness aspect, resulting in 'realist environmental management,' are unlikely to gain and sustain momentum during their sustainability voyage. Managers should, therefore, lever company-wide support, routinize and systematize environmental activities, and integrate the latter into their business as usual. Academics should concurrently consider the complementary perspectives of power and learning and undertake more longitudinal studies to better understand the drivers and caveats of sustainable business development.

Keywords: institutionalization, sustainable development, environmental management

JEL Classification: M10, M14

Suggested Citation

Wijen, Frank, Institutionalization as a Prerequisite for Sustainable Corporate Development. Available at SSRN:

Frank Wijen (Contact Author)

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) ( email )

Burg. Oudlaan 50
Room T07-38
3000 DR Rotterdam, 3000 DR
31 10 4081985 (Phone)

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