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Competing corporate sustainability perceptions in a global retail organization

Ulf Elg (School of Economics and Management, Lund University, Lund, Sweden)
Jens Hultman (Department of Business, Kristianstad University, Kristianstad, Sweden)
Axel Welinder (School of Economics and Management, Lund University, Lund, Sweden)

International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management

ISSN: 0959-0552

Article publication date: 4 December 2020

Issue publication date: 19 March 2021




The purpose is to explore the different and often contradictory perceptions individual managers have about corporate sustainability within a global retailer.


A qualitative case study method is used, including interviews and document studies. The authors study the global retailer IKEA. In total the authors have interviewed respondents on both the global level and the country level, within the sustainability organization as well as corporate, sales and communication management. The study includes managers in Sweden, the UK and Germany.


The research is based on institutional theory, focusing upon cognitive and normative aspects; the authors propose that managers may have a proactive, forceful view on sustainability or a reactive view. These need to coexist. The authors also show how global retailers can balance sustainability goals with other business considerations, as well as about the implications of the sustainability approach for the retailer's business model.

Practical implications

Retail managers need to recognize and integrate the contradictory views on sustainability that managers hold. The authors show how sustainability can be given different impact depending on the context and the strategic issue it is linked to.


Most studies have focused on how sustainability is managed on an organizational level and how different goals can co-exist. The authors’ focus is on individual managers and their perceptions of sustainability – what it includes, how they want to manage sustainability issues, and the priority it should be given.



This study is a part of a larger research projects founded by Handelsbanken's research foundation.


Elg, U., Hultman, J. and Welinder, A. (2021), "Competing corporate sustainability perceptions in a global retail organization", International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 49 No. 4, pp. 449-465.



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