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Implementing corporate sustainability: What drives the application of sustainability management tools in Germany?

Sarah Elena Windolph (Centre for Sustainability Management (CSM), Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany)
Stefan Schaltegger (Centre for Sustainability Management (CSM), Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany)
Christian Herzig (Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Article publication date: 28 October 2014

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to conduct an empirical analysis among large German companies to enhance the understanding of whether and which institutional factors influence the application of sustainability management tools. Stepping from corporate sustainability visions to implementation requires the application of management tools. A multitude of sustainability management tools have been proposed in literature. Research on their application in corporate practice is, however, scarce.

Design/methodology/approach

Based on a survey of large German companies and publicly available data, this paper tests the influence of corporate sustainability networks, indices, standards and the awareness of sustainability management tools on their application in corporate practice.

Findings

A particularly strong positive relation exists between awareness and application of sustainability management tools. Standards are also found to have a positive influence, while the influence of networks and indices is less strong. Our findings suggest that the application of sustainability management tools can be fostered through the promotion and increasing awareness of tools.

Research limitations/implications

The analysis is based on a survey of large German companies. Factors of institutional isomorphism are tested. Further research is needed for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the influence of further aspects such as competitive and psychological factors.

Practical implications

The findings of this paper suggest that the application of sustainability management tools can be fostered particularly well through increasing awareness and the active promotion of tools. Networks, indices and standard help increase awareness.

Originality/value

The analysis unveils the role of institutional factors influencing the application sustainability management tools in corporate practice.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the reviewers and Carol Adams for their valuable comments. Many thanks to Jacob Hörisch for serving as a sparring partner in the Corporate Sustainability Barometer project while writing this paper. The authors profited from feedback of the participants of the “Sustainable and Responsible Business” Track at the British Academy of Management conference in Cardiff and the participants of the Global Conference of Environmental and Sustainability Management Accounting Network (EMAN) in Helsinki for their valuable feedback on presentations when developing this paper.

Citation

Elena Windolph, S., Schaltegger, S. and Herzig, C. (2014), "Implementing corporate sustainability: What drives the application of sustainability management tools in Germany?", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 5 No. 4, pp. 378-404. https://doi.org/10.1108/SAMPJ-01-2014-0002

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited