Concern trolling, gaslighting, lying and other corporate strategies versus transition…

Day two of my new policy about writing what I read.

a) highlight interesting theory/facts
b) relate the reading to other (academic) reading, and
c) how it helps me move forward on my Thesis, (Handing Over M-phatically   August/September (’17)   (Thomas).

This paper below came via my supervisor and it is bloody fantastic.

Smink, M., Hekkert, M. and Negro, S. 2015. Keeping sustainable innovation on a leash? Exploring incumbents’ institutional strategies. Business Strategy and the Environment, Vol. 24, pp.86-101.

I did not know that this – what the big guys do when faced with upstarts – is a relatively understudied field.  And it makes me want ‘in’  (things are up in the air a bit with the analytic framework to cop with the piles of ‘facts’ I’ve gathered – more on that another time.)

Smink et al. are looking at what the big boys have done in the Netherlands when LED lighting and bio-fuels came along and had the potential to screw with profits and the cushy life  (these are ‘competence destroying innovations‘, in that they don’t easily fit within existing production lines etc. (Compare competence enhancing innovations)

So, there’s stuff on “institutional strategies”,  and “defensive institutional work” which a cynic would say is polite academese for ‘fixing the rules of the game‘…

Several authors show that incumbents have been able to (partially) capture the Dutch energy transition initiatives, which has reduced the potential for change (Avelino, 2009; Kern and Smith, 2008; Scrase and Smith, 2009; Voß et al., 2009).
(Smink et al. 2015: 88)

Institutional work is, quoting Lawrence and Suddaby (2016) “the purposive action of individuals and organizations aimed at creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions’ (p. 215).” Think Lewis Powell, in 1971 (see previous post)

What rules am I talking about? Well…

The effects of standards can be significant. Strict quality or safety standards can raise the production cost of a particular product or even exclude it from the market: technical standards thus shape the respective market (Bekkers and Martinelli, 2010).
(Smink et al. 2015: 90)

And how, well the usual ways –

Firms can attempt to influence public policy by engaging with policy makers and the general public through various channels. Specific information and messages are conveyed via lobbying, research reports and position papers, as well as via grassroots mobilization, various forms of advertising, contact with the media and educational activities. Furthermore, firms can engage with other market actors in the setting of technical standards.
(Smink et al. 2015: 90)

But there is some very very cool detail on the mechanics of this in the body of the article itself, based on interviews with insiders –

Here is the outright lie/smear from the title

In meetings with the Minister of Environment, the incumbent repeatedly claimed that the entrepreneur’s LED light was not ready for the market. During Taskforce Lighting meetings (issued by the ministry to increase energy efficiency), the incumbent brought along scientists who supported this claim. The minister only learned that this ‘authoritative’ statement was false when the entrepreneur actually demonstrated the functioning of the LED light in person during a meeting (entrepreneur 1, 2010).
(Smink et al. 2015: 92)

I will write separately on the whole “proof of concept” of new technologies – remind me to do so… Why, because the new disruptive technology (LEDs) might hurt profits, and the big boys weren’t yet in a position to exploit it.

Meanwhile, biofuels were also a pain. What to do? Well, try to pop the hype (and just for the record, biofuels are not my mitigation technology of choice).

Moreover, at the time the Dutch government had to transpose the Biofuel Directive into national law, the Dutch oil industry provided a study that concluded that CO2 reduction could be obtained more efficiently by co-firing biomass than by blending biofuels (de Volkskrant, 2003a, 2003b).
(Smink et al. 2015: 94)

And of course, you better take ownership of the ‘advisory panels’….

In response to the food versus fuel debate, the VNPI emphasized to ‘take it easy with the development of biofuels’ (policy maker 1, 2011). Their arguments concerned the availability of sustainable biomass and the availability of a certification scheme (policy maker 1, 2011; policy maker 2, 2012). Platform member 1 (2010) points to the enormous and persistent efforts of the oil industry to supply Dutch policy makers with information showing that not enough sustainable biomass was available. These efforts are said to take place in direct contact with the minister (policy maker 2, 2012) and within the Cramer Committee and the Corbey Committee (policy maker 1, 2011) that had been installed by the Dutch minister to investigate sustainability questions related to biomass. In 2008, the Netherlands indeed lowered the prescribed blending target for 2010 from 5.75% to 4% (Agentschap NL, 2012).
(Smink et al. 2015: 94)

Smink et al have some great observations. On concern trolling, catch the brass neck of the incumbents in this

Third, incumbents tailor their arguments to general policy goals: they express their interests in terms of socially legitimate goals. For instance, the lighting incumbent makes negative statements about competitors’ products, based on the premise that consumers should be protected against products that do not meet efficiency or other standards. Although this is a praiseworthy aim, it is not a logical task for an actor with related and conflicting commercial interests. Similarly, the oil incumbent states that it is very important that biofuels used for blending are produced from sustainable biomass. In itself, this is a legitimate argument. However, this criterion slows down the development of the biofuel market, due to the certification system that has to be put in place.
(Smink et al. 2015: 96)

Heaps of stuff I should (re) read

Farla J, Markard J, Raven R, Coenen L. 2012. Sustainability transitions in the making: a closer look at actors, strategies and resources. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 79(6): 991–998.

Geels FW, Schot J. 2007. Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways. Research Policy 36(3): 399–417.

Lawrence TB, Suddaby R. 2006. Institutions and institutional work. In Handbook of Organization Studies, Clegg SR, Hardy C, Lawrence TB, Nord WR (eds). Sage: London; 215–254.

Maguire S, Hardy C. 2009. Discourse and deinstitutionalization: the decline of DDT. Academy of Management Journal 52(1): 148–178.

Voß J-P, Smith A, Grin J. 2009. Designing long-term policy: rethinking transition management. Policy Sciences 42(4): 275–302.

Usefulness for my thesis? If I go down the institutional work/regime resistance route, the this paper is going to be very very important.  Coal industry and its relationship with the state, versus all forms of environmental regulation, support for renewables.  Who does what institutional work, when?  etc etc

Watch this space.


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