Managing Sustainability in Global Networks


The purpose of the “Managing Sustainability in Global Networks” track at the 29th IMP Conference is to evaluate the importance of CSR, sustainability and business ethics in industrial and business marketing and the use and importance of global networks in improving research in these disparate but related fields. Conceptual, empirical and methodological papers are welcome in the areas of CSR, sustainable development and business ethics either relating specifically to business networks or more generally to the B2B sector.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), sustainable development and business ethics are becoming ever increasingly important issues for society, governments and business organisations affecting a wider group of stakeholders evidenced by the meteoric rise of publications in both the academic and practitioner literature (Bielak et al 2007; Carroll & Shabana, 2010; Ming-Dong, 2008; Reinhardt et al, 2008). Organisations are under increasing pressure to meet the needs of their stakeholders if they are to maintain their longer term competitive positioning. Therefore CSR, sustainable development and business ethics should be considered as core strategic issues and be appropriately aligned with other strategic activities within the firm. Although treated as three separate disciplines in the management literature the three subjects can be considered as being intricately linked with each one being considered a component and contributing their part to the the social, environmental and economic dimensions of business. The need exists for profit making organisations to gain an improved theoretical understanding of how CSR, sustainability development and business ethics are developed and potentially impact upon their corporate image, reputation and ultimately their financial performance. Non-profit organisations including government and non – government organisations (NGOs) should also have a better understanding of their role and impact in achieving the desired CSR, sustainability and ethical targets.

To date even though there has been a dramatic increase in the realisation, appreciation, importance and desire for increased adoption of CSR, sustainability and business ethics, the increased number of recently reported ethical scandals including inappropriate CSR activities undertaken by corporations and the poor and slow adoption of new sustainability ideas, products and processes are evidence of the futile attempt at business and governments to create a better economic and social environment intended to lead to a more effective and efficient way in managing the World’s scarce resources designed not only to meet the needs of the present but will also not compromise the needs of future generations (Brundtland Commission WCED Report, 1987; P43).

The majority of academic research dedicated to CSR, sustainable development and business ethics has up to now focussed primarily on the Business-to-Consumer (B2C) sector focussing on end or near end stakeholders with limited empirical research being undertaken in the Business-to-Business (B2B) area. Therefore an important research gap exists in identifying whether CSR, sustainable development and business ethics operate in similar ways and considered of similar importance in B2B firms and their networks compared to how they operate and are considered in B2C firms. Researching CSR, sustainable development and business ethics in the B2B sector is particularly pertinent at the present time because the trend within B2B firms has been to increasingly outsource supply activities through independent suppliers (Moller & Halinen, 1999). This leads to managing multiple production critical supplier relationships through networked partnerships or strategic alliances (Thorelli, 1986) resulting in increased operational and social risks in addition to increasing the complexity of relationships between firms and their external environment (Kytle & Ruggie, 2005). CSR, sustainable development and business ethics are therefore becoming more relevant within these supply chains (Maloni & Brown, 2006; Carter & Jennings, 2002a,b; 2004) as branded manufacturers and retailers are increasingly being pressured by formal and self-regulatory bodies as well as other stakeholders including end consumers to justify the behaviour of all intermediary suppliers involved in their supply chain (Strange, 2008).

CSR, sustainability and business ethics are complex constructs, difficult to define with limited measures (Dahlsrud, 2008; Lindgreen et al, 2009b) usually involving an interdisciplinary approach of study calling upon the natural and social sciences to provide an understanding of the problems as well as solutions to the numerous issues caused by institutions affecting society. Both CSR and sustainability have not yet been explained by a single general theory (Lindgreen & Swaen, 2010). The current static theoretical frameworks and closed system methods currently used to research CSR, sustainability and business ethics are deemed to be inappropriate as they do not capture the complexity and dynamic nature of the research environment and only provide a partial picture of reality. More dynamic, complex theories and open system research methodologies (Nohria, 1992; Wood, 2010) are thought to be better representations and research approaches as to how CSR, sustainability and business ethics are developed and implemented in firms. Network theories particularly the approach developed by the Industrial Marketing and Purchasing Group (IMP) could provide an improved theoretical basis to conduct future research in the fields of CSR, sustainable development and business ethics as it takes into account the dynamic complexity of the issues and provides a more realistic theoretical representation. Oberg et al (2012) commenting on environmental sustainability argue that network-level analyses are better at capturing actual environmental consequences than present assessment models based on single entities and that single-entity analyses only consider direct effects. By treating the entities as independent may lead to inappropriate decisions that would beneficial impacts to the environment. Specifically three of the four IMP models; the interaction approach (Hakansson, 1982; Turnbull & Valla, 1986), the ARA (Activities, Resources, Actors) model (Hakansson & Johanson, 1992) and the industrial network approach (Hakansson & Snehota, 1995) are seen as being useful to research this area.

The treatment of CSR, sustainable development and business ethics as stabilising a number of interactional, relational networks of outsourced B2B suppliers linked to B2C organisations and other stakeholders is seen as a progressive way of better understanding the role of CSR, sustainability and business ethics. It also emphasises the requirement for a wider interdisciplinary role for marketing in today‘s modern organisation in effectively managing CSR, sustainability and business ethics by satisfying not only customers but by developing loyalty and trust (Morgan & Hunt, 1994; Achrol, 1997) through CSR, sustainability and business ethics to stabilise relational social networks of stakeholders. High values, trust and commitment should provide strong relational ties and encourage stronger activity links and stabilise the network through strong co-operation between actors. Low values, trust and commitment, on the other hand, should lead to greater opportunistic and transactional competitive behaviour therefore destabilising networks (Powell, 1990).


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