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Making the business case? Intercultural differences in framing economic rationality related to environmental issues

Petra Molthan-Hill (Department of Management, Nottingham Business School, Nottingham, UK)

Critical Perspectives on International Business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 2 March 2015




The purpose of this paper is to challenge the assumptions prominent in the Anglo-American context that the objective of a business is to increase its profits and that managers have to make “the business case” to implement environmentally sounder solutions or other sustainability considerations into their business decisions. The paper argues that these assumptions are not presented as a human construction or agreement, instead they are treated as though they are a given, a prerequisite to a business system. By comparing qualitative statements in a cross-cultural study, the paper highlights different ways in which economic rationality could be conceptualised.


Habermas’ (1984) framework of instrumental and communicative reason has been used to analyse the accounts of German and British managers in the Food Retail and Energy Sector.


Only the British managers “make the business case” when dealing with environmental problems. German managers use a different instrumental reason from that applied by British managers; they would argue that cost-intensive environmental improvements can be made as long as the survival of the company is not at risk.

Practical implications

The study challenges the perceived objectiveness of the “business case”, which has strong implications for the theoretical and practical application of Business Administration in the British context and beyond. Furthermore the paper suggests that new conceptualisations of “economic rationality” might help to better solve sustainability challenges.


Practical application of Habermas framework to question underlying assumptions in the business discourse about environmental issues.



The author would like to thank Prof Tony Watson, Fiona Winfield and the reviewers for their helpful comments and feedback.


Molthan-Hill, P. (2015), "Making the business case? Intercultural differences in framing economic rationality related to environmental issues", Critical Perspectives on International Business, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 72-91.



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