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Benefits and challenges of developing an eco-social orientation: implications for marketing practice

Colin Bauer Gabler (Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, USA)
V. Myles Landers (Mississippi State University, Starkville, Mississippi, USA)
R. Glenn Richey (Department of Systems and Technology, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, USA)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 26 November 2020

Issue publication date: 7 April 2021




Social and environmental actors have been added to the stakeholder balancing act required of organizations in today’s competitive marketplace. To address this, the firms may create orientations to convey their strategic priorities. The purpose of this paper is to explore how different levels of environmental orientation (EO) and social orientation (SO) influence firm outcomes. This paper leverages logic from the too-much-of-a-good-thing effect to predict that firms must strategically align their resources with performance goals to optimize these resources.


The paper outlines a step-by-step guide that combines latent moderated structural equation modeling with response surface analysis to estimate curvilinear relationships. The approach leverages the benefits of both techniques to produce precise results and more nuanced – and meaningful – implications.


The procedure is effective in uncovering a curvilinear relationship between the indicator variables. Specifically, firms optimize environmental performance when EO is higher than SO. The opposite is the case for the outcome of social value and manager trust. Economic performance is highest when both indicators are simultaneously high.

Research limitations/implications

This study tests the relationships between social and EOs and performance. As such, the exploratory data in this study are US-centric and self-assessment in design. These limitations open the door to confirmatory studies using objective outcome data and cross-cultural comparisons. Such studies should embrace more variables and examine potential moderating influences. Most importantly, future research should work to expand and verify the development of the eco-SO construct presented here, as the dynamics of these relationships have been overlooked in most social responsibility and sustainability research. Future studies should adopt this construct into extant models and also consider the dynamics and inter-organizational fit for partner firms with competing orientations.

Practical implications

For managers, the results show that conveying an environmental or social outcome has unique benefits to the firm. Further, there is an incentive to try and do both simultaneously. However, there is a critical point where the effects taper off, which can guide managers as they implement social and/or environmental strategies.

Social implications

The research questions ask if a company can simultaneously deliver: economic value to shareholders, environmental value to the planet and social value to consumers while maintaining the trust of its managers. The results generally support that to fully serve one group, a firm must underserve another.


The study introduces SO as a valid construct to mirror EO and then models their interaction in three-dimensional space to present an optimal firm strategy.



Gabler, C.B., Landers, V.M. and Richey, R.G. (2021), "Benefits and challenges of developing an eco-social orientation: implications for marketing practice", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 55 No. 4, pp. 1155-1176.



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