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Adoption and diffusion of environmental and social standards: The effect of stringency, governance, and media coverage

Pavel Castka (Department of Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand)
Charles Corbett (Anderson School of Management, UCLA, Los Angeles, California, USA)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 7 November 2016




The increased focus on sustainability has led firms to incorporate a range of sustainability practices in their products, processes and supply chains. Because these practices are typically difficult to observe, firms often seek an independent verification and adopt voluntary environmental and social standards and eco-labels such as ISO 14000, FSC, USDA Organic or Fairtrade. The purpose of this paper is to study several factors linked to their adoption.


Drawing on existing theory, the authors hypothesize that environmental and social standards will be more widely adopted if they are better-governed, less stringent and more favorably covered in the media. The authors collect data on 41 eco-labels from multiple data sources.


The authors find that the better-governed labels are more widely adopted, but that more stringent labels within the sample are not less widely adopted. More favorable media coverage is not associated with wider adoption.

Research limitations/implications

The study focuses on the diffusion of a sample of well-established eco-labels. To establish causal links, longitudinal data on governance, stringency, adoption and media coverage would be needed.

Practical implications

Managers deciding which eco-label to adopt need not be concerned that a more stringent label will inevitably yield less business value due to the label being less widely adopted. However, they should care whether a label is seen to be well-governed. Managers cannot use the way a label is portrayed in the media as a predictor for adoption.


Past research has often ignored how characteristics of environmental and social standards impact their diffusion. The work contributes to the growing literature on diffusion of voluntary standards and eco-labels by adding a quantitative and multi-sectoral perspective.



The authors are very grateful to the many experts who participated in this study and to Anastasia O’Rourke (co-founder of Big Room Inc., the organization behind, Olivier Peyrat (Director General of AFNOR, the Association Française de Normalisation), Dr James Galloway (CEO, Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand) and Paddy Doherty and Kristin Komives at the ISEAL Alliance, for helpful discussions. (As usual, all opinions expressed here are solely those of the authors.) The authors also wish to thank Sasha Nichols for his assistance with the literature search. Most of all, the authors are deeply indebted to the team of UCLA Anderson MBA students (Class of 2011) who conducted the expert interviews, collected the expert survey responses, and coded the articles: Kuldip K. Ambastha, Soumya Gadde, Lawrence Herbert, Madhavi (Mia) Naik, and Ryan Perry.


Castka, P. and Corbett, C. (2016), "Adoption and diffusion of environmental and social standards: The effect of stringency, governance, and media coverage", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 36 No. 11, pp. 1504-1529.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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