Tag Archives: David Levy

It feels like they win when they lose – hegemonic accommodation and institutional entrepreneurs

I re-read

Levy, D. and Scully, M. 2007. The Institutional Entrepreneur as Modern Prince: The Strategic Face of Power in Contested Fields. Organization Studies, 28(07): 971–991.

while slogging around Alex Park with my backpack full of books and weights this morning.  I had forgotten just how damn good it is, and how damn useful it will be For The Thesis.

I could quote for ages – especially on ‘The Modern Prince’ , but a) time b) your attention c) copyright. So for now, this – the notion of ‘hegemonic accommodation’ – a cousin of Marcuse’s ‘repressive tolerance’.  There’s useful stuff in this for me thinking about the big voluntary scheme that the Howard Government used as a fig-leaf (one it inherited from Keating, and duly expanded), also known as ‘the Greenhouse Challenge.’  The analogy with the Access Campaign is fairly weak – the NGOs in the Australian case were aiming for a carbon tax, and got rolled, not co-opted…

The interaction between the strategies of institutional entrepreneurs and defenders frequently gives rise to a characteristic pattern of limited accommodation while preserving, or even reinforcing, the essentials of field power structures. Pragmatic entrepreneurs, seeking to legitimize their claims, frequently use insider language and practices to drive change (Meyerson and Scully 1995) and ‘embed calls for change within accepted models’ (Clemens and Cook 1999: 459).
(Levy and Scully, 2007: 984)

In agreeing to establish a forum for consultation, industry not only enhanced its legitimacy but also gained financially from the marketing value of this information and from expanded insurance coverage.
(Levy and Scully, 2007: 985)

Though the Access Campaign is generally credited with having ‘won’ the struggle to allow low-cost generic drugs in developing countries, this institutional settlement was also a hegemonic accommodation.
(Levy and Scully, 2007: 985)

Indeed, pharmaceutical companies quickly moved to claim credit for expanded drug access and embraced the discourse of corporate social responsibility. The power of even the most skillful institutional entrepreneurs is constrained by the nesting of issue-level fields within wider, well-entrenched institutions. Institutional entrepreneurship has been characterized using salient episodes and discontinuities but is an ongoing, situated process.
(Levy and Scully, 2007: 985)

Of dinosaurs, Gramsci, Aussie polluters and #climate change: 5 easy pieces

I appear to be Learning.  Instead of 13 articles to synthesise, this one only goes up to five.

They’re listed below, and I’ll take them in the order I read them, which is mostly chronological.

Dobel, A., Westberg, K. Steel, M. and Flowers, K. (2014) An Examination of Corporate Social responsibility Implementation and Stakeholder Engagement: A Case Study in the Australian Mining Industry Business Strategy and the Environment Vol. 23, 145-159.

Levy, D. and Spicer, A. (2013) Contested imaginaries and the cultural political economy of climate change Organization Vol .20 (5) 659-678.

Macintosh, A. (2014) Mitigation Targets, Burden Sharing and the Role of Economic Modeling in Climate Policy Australian Journal of Public Administration Vol. 73, (2) pp. 164-180

McLean, D. (1978) A Terminal Mesozoic “Greenhouse”: Lessons from the Past Science Vol. 2011, Number 4354 pp. 401-406.

Wang, L., Li, S. and Gao, S. (2014) Do Greenhouse Gas Emissions Affect Financial Performance? – an Empirical Examination of Australian Firms Business Strategy and the Environment 23, 505-519.

First up, the geologist Dewey McLean (1978) – ‘A Terminal Mesozoic “Greenhouse.”

It starts “Human combustion of the fossil fuels coal, oil and gas and of forest clearing is measurably increasing the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere.”  And then in a few pages, with headings such as “Late Maestrichtian Extinctions”, ”Body Size and Heat Dissipation” and “Human-Generated Carbon Dioxide : A Modern Trigger?”  he basically says ‘be afraid, be very afraid.’

Fwiw, I found this one by following breadcrumbs (e.g. this) from George Monbiot’s latest excellent “we really are screwed” piece in the Grauniad.  I have a bit of a fascination for early (ignored) warnings.  Earlier in 1978 Nature had published a piece by John Mercer warning that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could go (and guess what, it probably is).  Of course, ‘early’ is relative. Revelle, Keeling and Bolin (among many others) had been banging on about anthropogenic climate change since the late ‘50s.  Btw, my fascination has led me to set up a very depressing website called “All Our Yesterdays, 365 Climate Histories.”  But I digress…


Next up is the extraordinarily rich piece by David Levy and Andre Spicer.  This really is a Must Read.

[How did I find it? A hat-tip here to my friend Christopher Wright, who has co-authored a book Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations coming out in September with Daniel Nyberg. I’ve read the first few chapters and they’re dead good]

Levy and Spicer use the concept of “imaginaries”, which they describe as providing

“a shared sense of meaning, coherence and orientation around highly complex issues. Imaginaries are closely linked to the ways in which institutions and economic activity are organized and structured, and the ways people think they ought to be organized and structured.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:660)

They outline four core climate imaginaries – ‘fossil fuels forever, ‘climate apocalypse’, ‘techno-market’ and ‘sustainable lifestyles’

And throw in some thinking from dead Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (very cool guy) and Bob Jessop too.  They describe Jessop as arguing that “we are at a selection stage where

“more radical imaginaries that fundamentally question capitalism, or seek to revive Keynesianism and a stronger state, are losing plausibility within the coordinates of neoliberal capitalism.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:662)

My money is on neoliberal capitalism to win all the battles and lose the war (what, with Mother Nature batting last and all).

So, the imaginaries have to duke it out, but it’s not of course a fair fight. Some organisations have deeper pockets than others, and are going with the grain of human ‘progress’ and promethean self-conception…

Levy and Spicer outline how different imaginaries have gained pre-eminence at different stages over the last 30 years,


(and this gibes well with the Schlichting, (2013) that I discussed in the last summary. They also reference Unruh’s (2000) under-used concept of the Techno-Institutional Complex .

And give some great concrete examples of the fossil-fuel industry’s unsympathetic  counter-rhetorical strategies (Ibarra and Kitsuse, 1993) around telling anecdotes, and insincerity –

“This linkage of climate to class politics was expressed powerfully in a 2008 CEI television advertisement targeting Al Gore’s alleged hypocrisy regarding energy. The narrator begins: ‘Here’s the electricity we use at home. Al Gore uses 20 times as much’. Against a backdrop of Al Gore greeting other celebrities and receiving his Oscar for the film, An Inconvenient Truth, the narrator continues: ‘Mr Gore’s friends use lots of energy, too, but Al Gore wants to cut our energy use, putting our jobs and our future in jeopardy. Mr Gore’s future, on the other hand, couldn’t be brighter’. Reprising themes from earlier advertisements, the narrator warns: ‘But what will happen … if we restrict energy use? Some people may have a bright future, but don’t kid yourself–without affordable energy, hundreds of millions of people won’t have any future at all’. The final scene is a destitute black child wrapped in rags.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:671)

There’s also the concept of a “value regime” (adapted from Appadurai) which I have to think about more. It

“refers to the broader political-economic settlement linking an imaginary with specific set of technologies, production methods and market structures.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:673)

They point out that

“locating the fossil fuels forever imaginary within a broader value regime helps explain its resilience. Even as the imaginary eroded as a motivating vision, it remained anchored to economic and technological foundations, reinforced through everyday practices of energy intense lifestyles, just as institutional logics are reproduced through routines (Lounsbury et al., 2003; Seo and Creed, 2002). Moreover, the sector remained politically powerful, with substantial profits to fund lobbying, advertising and other efforts to defend the value regime.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:674)

Some of the articles imma need to read (see below for learning – it’s all a bit Pascal’s sphere of ignorance/knowledge)

Callon, M. and Muniesa, F. (2005) ‘Economic Markets as Calculative Collective Devices’, Organization Studies 26(8): 1229–50.

Leahy, T., Bowden, V. and Threadgold, S. (2010) ‘Stumbling Towards Collapse: Coming to Terms with the Climate Crisis’, Environmental Politics 19(6): 851–68.

Levy, D. L. and Egan, D. (1998) ‘Capital Contests: National and Transnational Channels of Corporate Influence on the Climate Change Negotiations’, Politics and Society 26(3): 337–61.

Levy, D. and Scully, M. (2007) ‘The Institutional Entrepreneur as Modern Prince: The Strategic Face of Power in Contested Fields’, Organization Studies 28(7): 971–91.

Morton, A. D. (2007) Unravelling Gramsci: Hegemony and Passive Revolution in the Global Economy. London: Pluto Press.

Rabe, B. (2008) ‘States on Steroids: The Intergovernmental Odyssey of American Climate Policy’, Review of Policy Research 25(2): 105–28.

Wynne, B. (2010) ‘Strange Weather, Again: Climate Science as Political Art’, Theory, Culture, and Society 27(2–3): 289–305.


Dobele et al. (2014) was, a slight case of feeling on the receiving end of bait-and-switch.  The case study dealt not so much with mining but with a (failed) shale gas project in Queensland that had come acropper for a variety of reasons (hubris, local relations going tits up when the plant began to pong, and the arrival of Greenpeace.  Dobele et al. point out that the company did itself no favours by retreating, in PR terms, to Sydney.  Not a good look.

They’re good on the point that actors should see themselves as part of an actor network – “a company is not the centre of the stakeholder network; the network has a life of its own, regardless of a company’s involvement or non-involvement’

Still, for my purposes, there were some useful references, perspectives on CSR etc.

And I will need to track down;

Barlow, K. (2004) The Environmental group Greenpeace alleges that the Federal Government offered a multi-million dollar Subsidy to a private oil company in Exchange for Taking Legal Action Against Greenpeace, Australia, Radio National.

Sounds interesting, and should be compared with the farce in the Cheney-Bush Whitehouse when functionaries on the inside were encouraging a think tank to sue the administration to gum up the works) –

[wikipedia] On August 11, 2003, Maine Attorney General G. Steven Rowe and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in a press release[8][9] called on United States Attorney General John Ashcroft

to investigate whether officials at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) solicited a conservative Washington think tank to sue the federal government in order to invalidate a government document warning of the impacts of global warming.The two state attorneys general obtained an email document through a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed a great intimacy between CEQ and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) on strategizing about ways to undermine the United States’ official reports and the authority of its officials.

[…] It appears that certain White House officials conspired with an anti-environmental special interest group to cause the lawsuit to be filed against the federal government.


Wang et al. (2014) is just plain depressing. If they are right, and I am reading them right, then it turns out that there is “a positive correlation between GHG emissions and corporate financial performance.”  [Translation: trashing the planet makes you money].  They speculate that the “positive correlation found in this study could be explained with reference to the unique economic structure and development of Australia, particularly its dominant mining industry.” [Translation: “we’re China’s spare coal mine and we’re too busy counting the dollars to be counting the carbon, suckers.”]

Levy and Spicer would probably nod and point to the “fossil fuels future” imaginary, and the “climate impasse” from 2009 onwards. (Australia avoided the Global Financial Crisis, and the entire soap opera of bringing in weak emissions trading scheme, at the second attempt, and then abolishing it, has played out between 2010 and 2014.)


Finally Macintosh, (2014).  He’s written a LOT of good stuff on Australian climate policy, including on land-clearance, which is what he addresses here.  The gist of what he is saying is that despite getting a ridiculously good deal out of Kyoto (by threatening to leave, basically), the Australians persist in saying the sky will fall if they have to even reduce the rate at which they accelerate digging up carbon and selling it to everyone they can.

There’s lots of very controlled (and thus more effective than my-style-of-ranting) stuff about the political purposes to which economic modelling can be put –

Given the significance of targets to sovereign and political interests, there is the added difficulty that there are strong incentives for parties to skew the analyses in their favour (Putnam 1988; Christoff 2005). This would not be overly problematic if the analyses were transparent but the complexity of the modelling and circumstances in which it is typically undertaken often shield it from scrutiny and leave it vulnerable to manipulation. Governments can shape the scenarios to produce results that support their negotiating and domestic political positions safe in the knowledge that most people will be bamboozled by the numbers, graphs, maps and other material that typically accompanies the analysis. Bycontrolling the release of information, governments can also prevent meaningful scrutiny of the underlying assumptions and outputs (McKibbin et al. 2009; Ergas and Robson 2012).
(Macintosh, 2014: 166)


The treatment of LULUCF in the modelling that has been done for policy purposes in Australia highlights the problems with burden sharing approaches that use economic projections to determine national targets. Put simply, economic modelling is too unreliable, too subjective and too vulnerable to manipulation to provide a reliable and objective basis from which to set caps. Economic modelling has its uses, including in relation to the formulation of climate policy. The danger lies in exactly how it is used.
(Macintosh, 2014: 176)

There is a long history of the use of economic modelling to ‘frame’ debates on climate mitigation in Australia, back to the late 80s and early 1990s.  You can read about it in my thesis (probably only a footnote!  In the meantime, check out  Diesendorf (1998) and Henman (2002).


So, what do we learn? That I am Learning.  That there aren’t enough hours in the day to read closely all the excellent articles out there AND enter the relevant factoids and concepts in your secret database AND do some thinking and writing (not necessarily in that order). AND have a wife, sorry, life.

Last word though goes to the oldest of the articles.  McLean closes (and this is 197-bloody-8, mind you) with this

A critical problem for humans is to avoid arriving inadvertently at a critical threshold that might trigger an abrupt accelerated warming of the climate beyond their capacity to control, or to adapt to, it. The duration of such a “greenhouse” would, in human terms, last an interminable period, and its impact on life would be incalculable. Animals today are generally adapted to relatively cool conditions, as were faunas prior to the terminal Mesozoic extinctions. A sudden climatic warming could potentially impose on us conditions comparable to those that terminated a geologic era.
(McLean, 1978:406)

Diesendorf, M. (1998) Australian economic models of greenhouse abatement Environmental Science & Policy Vol. 1, (1), pp. 1–12.

Henman, P. (2002) Computer Modeling and the Politics of Greenhouse Gas Policy in Australia Social Science Computer Review Vol. 20 (2) 161-173.

Ibarra P. and Kitsuse. J.I. (1993) “Vernacular Constituents of Moral Discourse: An Interactionist Proposal for the Study of Social Problems.” Pp. 21-54 in Constructionist Controversies: Issues in Social Problems Theory (SocialProblems and Social Issues), edited by D.R. Loseke, and J. Best. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.

Schlichting, I. (2013) Strategic Framing of Climate Change by Industry Actors: A Meta-analysis, Environmental Communication, 7:4, 493-511

Unruh, G. (2000) Understanding carbon lock-in Energy Policy, Vol. 28, 12, pages 817-83

13 academic articles on corporate political strategy and … #climate change

[Update: I got it down to five papers for the next one, and four for the one after that!]

Hmm, let this be a lesson to me.  Nobody, probably even me, is going to read all of this.  I need to do write-ups every three or four articles (which, given the amount I read, means daily, not bragging).  I also need to be systematic in what I read (clustering papers where possible).  Below there’s an alphabetical list of the papers I look at, but the discussion of them will be clustered “logically,” around

  • issues (framing, salience etc),
  • US corporate responses to (environmental) pressures,
  • corporate political strategy,
  • corporate climate change strategy internationally,
  • then closing out with specific papers about Australia and the USA.

Papers discussed

Bonardi, JP and Keim, G. (2005) Corporate political strategies for widely salient issues Academy Of Management Review, Vol.30(3), pp.555-576

Entman, R. (1993) Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm Journal of Communication 43 (4)

Griffiths, A. Haigh, N. and Rassias, J. (2007) A Framework for Understanding Institutional Governance Systems and Climate Change: The Case of Australia European Management Journal Vol. 25 6, pp. 415-427

Hillman, A. and Hitt, M. (1999) Corporate political Strategy formulation: A model of approach, participation and strategy decisions Academy of Management Review Vol 24, 4,

Hillman, A, Keim, G. and Schuler, D. (2004) Corporate Political Activity A Review and Research Agenda Journal of Management, Vol.30 (6), pp.837-857

Hoffman, A.  (1999) Institutional Evolution and Change: Environmentalism and the U.S. Chemical industry Academy of Management Journal 42, 4, 351-371.

Jones, C.and Levy, D. (2007) North American Business Strategies towards climate change European management Journal Vol 25, 6, pp. 428-440.

Kolk,A. and Pinkse, J. (2007) Multinationals’ political activities on climate change Business and Society, June 2007, Vol.46(2), pp.201-228

Kolk, A. and Pinkse, J. (2008) A perspective on multinational enterprises and climate change: Learning from “an inconvenient truth” Journal of International Business Studies 39, 1359-1378.

Pinkse J. and Kolk, A. (2012) Multinational enterprises and climate change: Exploring institutional failures and embeddedness Journal of International Business Studies 43, 332-341.

Schlichting, I. (2013) Strategic Framing of Climate Change by Industry Actors: A Meta-analysis, Environmental Communication, 7:4, 493-511

Weidenbaum, M. (1980) Public policy: No longer a spectator sport Journal of Business Strategy 1, 1

Yoffie, D. (1988) How an Industry Builds Political Advantage Harvard Business Review May-June 82-89

Let’s start with Entman (1993), since that sort of ‘frames’ (hoho) my interest here. Short ‘theoretical’ papers can be the most fun to read. No methodology to slog through, no analysis of data sources to quibble with, just “pure” thought.  Entman wants to tidy up the loose use of ‘framing’, which is “often defined casually, with much left to an assumed tacit understanding of reader and researcher” (Entman,1993: 53).

Key quote is  –

Framing essentially involves selection and salience. To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described. Typically frames diagnose, evaluate, and prescribe, a point explored most thoroughly by Gamson (1992).
(Entman,1993: 52)

Salience Entman defines as

making  a piece of information more noticeable, meaningful, or memorable to audiences. An increase in salience enhances the probability that receivers will perceive the information, discern meaning and thus process it, and store it in memory (see Fiske & Taylor, 1991).
(Entman,1993: 53)

Cranberry scare - 1959_1111_mirror_cover smallSo, timing is everything. Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” (1962) benefitted not just from great writing and research, but the great cranberry scandal of 1959. Similarly, climate change ‘arrived’ in 1988 thanks not just to the Jim Hansens and Al Gores of this world, but the drought of that year and the ozone hole of 1985.  People were ‘softened up’, to use a military term.

One last quote from Entman, who strikes me as pretty smart, radical and (therefore) gloomy.

[The] theory, along with that of Kahneman and Tversky, seems to raise radical doubts about democracy itself. If by shaping frames elites can determine the major manifestations of “true” public opinion that are available to government (via polls or voting), what can true public opinion be? How can even sincere democratic representatives respond correctly to public opinion when empirical evidence of it appears to be so malleable, so vulnerable to framing effects?

Salience is something Bonardi and Keim (2005) are particularly strong on.   They use the concepts of ‘information cascades’ (with busy inexpert people taking their cues on what to worry about and what to think about the issues of the day from their own leaders [newspapers, organisations etc]  – so-called ‘rational herding’ and ‘reputational cascades’ where people who want to be opinion formers more or less following the herd most of the time on most issues.

The interesting thing for me here is on how it might be possible to interrupt information cascades and distort reputational cascades within what Cobb and Ross (1997) would call ‘Agenda Denial’.

Bonardi and Keim define widely salient issues as ones that might matter to voters.

Politicians generally react in two ways to issues that become more salient to a larger number of voters: (1) either they wait for the issue to be widely salient and act only when they feel constrained to do so or risk having their re-election jeopardized, or (2) they act as entrepreneurs in the political arena, identifying early opportunities related to an issue’s becoming widely salient and using it as a way to compete against other politicians.
(Bonardi and Keim, 2005:559)

[So, see battles between Environment Minister Graham Richardson and his shadow, Chris Puplick, for the crucial green vote in Australia at the 1987 and 1990 Federal elections]

It might be possible to keep an issue from becoming salient if you can maintain a sense of doubt/controversy. The tobacco industry refined this tactic, and it continues down unto today, with the attacks the “97% consensus” meme….

And researchers and reporters can be carrot-and-sticked to be on message of course –

Sanctions or rewards imposed on experts can be of various sorts, among them the following: being ostracized in conferences or by others in the field, being hindered in the development of one’s career, having papers rejected for publication, or finding it difficult to acquire research support. Rewards given to or sanctions imposed on reporters are easier to identify, in the sense that reporters need to attract a wide audience to promote their career (Bovitz, Druckman, & Lupia, 2002).
(Bonardi and Keim, 2005: 562)

One is reminded of the Solomon Asch “which line is longer” stuff.

One efficient way by which firms can attempt to increase this variance in experts’ opinions regarding an issue is by providing support and financing to research centers and interest groups opposed to established positions. This encourages dissent among experts.
(Bonardi and Keim, 2005:568-9)

Bjorn Lomborg and University of Western Australia, much?

Bonardi and Keim continue –

One of the key conclusions of the literature surveyed in the first section of this paper is that well-organized interests with converging views are often an effective way to impact public policy decision makers. In the context of rivalry to raise the saliency of an issue, however, it is better to divide in order to stand. For several environmental issues, over which firms compete with activists and interest groups trying to raise these issues’ salience, firms have successfully prevented policy decisions by generating multiple views of the policy and promoting dissension.

These actions were largely the cause of the demise of a proposed European carbon tax in 1992, as well as the process to create a regime to control emissions of atmospheric greenhouse gases (Levy, 1997).
(Bonardi and Keim, 2005: 569)

They do a nice line in explaining “threshold modification” – basically shifting the tipping point at which attention starts to be properly paid to the issue that they want off the agenda.

Threshold modification is possible by firms financing interest groups with research activities that may support the firms’ views or create alternative views calling into question earlier results, threatening the stability of the previous cascade. New research results can have three positive effects. First, they can create new incentives and new research/career opportunities for those investigating issues related to firms’ interests.

Second, they can free the experts who feel constrained for reputation purposes to embrace the general opinion, therefore pushing down the threshold distribution. Third, they can ultimately impact reputation cascades to the point of threatening the stability of cascades previously supported by reporters.
(Bonardi and Keim, 2005: 571)

Finally on the framing/salience thing, Schlichting (2013) has an extremely useful paper with an overview of industry framing strategies around climate change. For now, the abstract can suffice –

This study uses framing theory to analyze 38 studies on industry actors’ climate change communication between 1990 and 2010. It identifies three consecutive phases, each characterized by one dominant master frame: in the early and mid-1990s the US fossil fuel and coal industry pushed the frame of scientific uncertainty. With the rundown to the Kyoto negotiations in 1997, the strategy shifted toward the socioeconomic consequences of mandatory emission reductions, particularly in the USA and Australia.

At the same time, European industry actors started to promote industrial leadership in a climate protection, which today dominates across all the world regions. The study discusses potential triggers for the regional differences as well as the implications for further research.

Oh, go on, here’s a quote from the article that bears on t’PhD;

Another important sponsor was the Australian mining industry. Pearse (2007) found out that single corporations usually did not directly sponsor the frame in Australia, but Australian associations and think tanks ‘‘all expressed doubt about the science of global warming’’ (Pearse, 2007, p. 148). Newell (2000) argues that the adoption of the uncertainty frame was triggered by the US PR firms teaming up with the Australian industry to search for new allies outside America (Newell, 2000, p. 110).

Three intriguing papers on US industry and its relations to policy-makers and regulation.

Weidenbaum (1980) manages to paint a picture of industry as Gulliver, becoming helplessly enmeshed in a web of Lilliputian snares, with expanding environmental regulation causing a “second managerial revolution”, stripping capitalists of their power to decide how and where to invest..  It’s redolent of Ayn Rand at her most florid.   At no point does he point to the – by the time of writing already well underway – active and effective measures taken by industry to reassert itself (see Barley, 2010).  His paper is interesting because he then became a figure(head) in the first Reagan Administration, and because it captures the tone of victimhood that industry occasionally goes for.

More interesting, and useful, is Yoffie (1988). In what I think is a seminal paper (or should be) he looks at how the semi-conductor industry learned, after several false starts, how to build a trade association that could play the Washington game and win.  (Trade associations fascinate me.  I defo need to read “The Political Mobilization of Firms and Industries” Edward T. Walker and Christopher M. Rea Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2014. 40:281–304

Yoffie makes a series of good points –

Companies need a united front. Small industries must develop and maintain alliances among competitors, suppliers, and customers. Such ties expand the range of affected constituencies, increase the resources available for political action, and defuse potential sources of opposition.
(Yoffie, 1988:83)

And unity needs to be created and enforced, with punishment for potential deserters… (see BCA struggles over Kyoto and emissions trading under Howard government)

A politician evaluating a proposal from business usually searches for answers to several basic questions: What will the proposal cost? What sectors of the economy benefit? What sectors lose? No politician wants to help one industry if it means antagonizing three others. That’s why coalitions are so important from a strategic perspective. Just as powerful suppliers and customers squeeze profit margins in the marketplace, unrestrained political competition among rivals, suppliers, and customers usually reduces everyone’s influence.
(Yoffie, 1988:84)

And so a trade association can’t just concentrate on the policy-makers, but also think about what “competing” business actors might do, what vetoes they might have and how they can be finessed into silence/acquiescence if not active support.

The [Semi-conductor Industry Association] and individual companies floated several initiatives against Japan during the late 1970s, and political leaders did what political leaders invariably do. They sought the reactions of other players in the industry as well as outside constituencies. In this case, the key outside constituency was the biggest buyers of chips-giant computer builders like Hewlett-Packard and Digital Equipment. The users’ primary concern was maintaining reasonable prices and flexible supplies. Invariably, they opposed SIA initiatives, which effectively doomed the proposals.

A string of defeats convinced semiconductor leaders that they had to expand their base of business support.
(Yoffie, 1988: 85)

Think. Dialectically….

On the last page of this packs-a-punch article, Yoffie writes –

The work of the semiconductor industry in Washington is not over. For government to be a reliable ally and partner, the relationship must be stable and ongoing. A shotgun approach to politics-get what you want and don’t return until you need something else-simply won’t suffice.
(Yoffie, 1988: 89)

This is what Hillman and Hitt (1999) refer to as the difference between a transactional approach and a relational one. But we’ll come back to that…

The final “US industry and (environmental) pressures” paper is a doozy.  Hoffman (1999) It’s got loads of theory geekery about institutional theory, neo-institutional theory (firms have to respond to wider pressures beyond their control – “rules, norms and beliefs that describe reality” and lots of clear explanation about ‘regulative’, ‘normative’ and ‘cognitive’ pillars, fields and “disruptive events”.  Hoffman then applies these theories to how the US chemical industry has changed (as in, has been dragged kicking and screaming and whining) away from their initial position that ‘DDT is good for you and anyone who says otherwise is a communist’ to a vague sense that there’s money to be made, and reputations to be maintained (and competitive advantage to be had) in not throwing excessive amounts of chlorine in the gene pool and then tossing in customers’ twitching corpses. Or something.  Rachel Carson, eh?  That’s what a heroine looks like.

Hoffman uses trade journal data to good effect, using some content analysis tools I will have to get my head around.   Nice progression of organizational fields (page 359) through from resistance/ignorance to regulatory, to normative to cognitive positions and generally lots of meaty goodness. Earlier this year I’d read Hoffman’s 1997 “From heresy to dogma” book, but this one paper might have been more useful for me…

Right, Hillman and Hitt – this is a seminal paper, I think.  Really really good stuff on corporate political strategy.  They seem to have read everything (several of the papers in this discussion I ‘found’ via the references), and they write clearly indeed, explaining who thought what and why it matters.

There’s far too much here to do full justice (you should read this paper).  For now, this –

Many firms, however, pursue political strategies over the long term, rather than on an issue-by-issue basis. This represents a more relational approach to political strategy. Instead of monitoring public interest and becoming involved only in specific issues, firms using a relational approach attempt to build relationships across issues and over time so that when public policy issues arise that affect their operations, the contacts and resources needed to influence this policy are already in place.
(Hillman and Hitt, 1990: 828)


Several variables may affect a firm’s decision to adopt a transactional versus a relational approach to political action. We examine three prominent ones: (1) the degree to which firms are affected by government policy, (2) the level of firm product diversification, and (3) the degree of corporatism/pluralism within the country in which firms are operating.
(Hillman and Hitt, 1990: 829)

Hillman, Keim and Schuler (2005) do a sterling job on outlining types of corporate political activity, and the research on it, outlining proactive versus reactive types, typologies within the “proactive” type, approaches (the aforementioned transactional/relational), participation level, strategy types – see Geels (2014) for an expansion of their information/financial incentive/constituency building typology).

This is one of those papers you have to know the field before you get the full value, and you can’t learn the field until you have read a bunch of the articles they cite.  It’s almost as if doing a PhD is hard-fricking-work and not a hobby.  Insert unsmiley emoticon here….

Three papers by Ans Kolk and Jonatan Pinkse, both at University of Amsterdam Business School, are also worth a close reading.

Kolk and Pinkse (2007) “Multinationals’ political activities on climate change” open with the contrast between Exxon’s white-anting of the Bush administration (or rather, collusion with it) on minimising climate reports and proactive business activity.  In June 2005, in one of history’s little jokes, the exposure of the first came the day before the launch of the latter.

They use Hillman and Hitt’s (1999) work on corporate political strategy and Bonardi and Keim (2005) on issue salience as the theoretical underpinning to look at the (self-reported) behaviour of global firms who had responded to various surveys/reporting outfits like the Carbon Disclosure Project.

It’s all good stuff, but an editing error means that Table 2, that “displays the main types of political activities of MNCs on climate change, with an example for each category that illustrate what a few firms report on these activities” is… missing.  Meanwhile, they conclude –

The findings show that the type of political activities that multinationals currently pursue in response to climate policy for one part can be characterized as the adoption of an information strategy to influence policy makers that give direction to the climate change debate. However, instead of trying to withhold policy makers from doing something against rising GHG emissions, most firms have taken a more cooperative approach by aiming to push policy makers in the direction of market-based solutions such as emissions trading and voluntary programs. The other part of corporate political activity for climate change is characterized as a strategy of self-regulation. Unlike an information strategy, which is predominantly targeted at policymakers, self-regulation involves a broad range of other political actors, such as business groups, environmental NGOs, and international institutions.

The process by which multinationals engage in political activities is mostly one of collective action….
(Kolk and Pinkse, 2007:225)

Kolke and Pinkse (2008) look at whether and how firms can exploit “green” activities for increased profit and market share – the answer seems to be very much “it really depends”… on which countries they are operating in, are the activities transferable, recombinant etc.

‘It’s complicated,’ basically –

The role that a global sustainability issue plays in MNE strategy is not merely a matter of dealing with local regulation, but is usually part of a broader conglomerate of factors involving not only govern mental but also societal and market forces, and at different levels, national, regional and/or international. Because of this whole variety of geographically dispersed forces that influence the development of a global sustainability issue, meet ing all stakeholder demands essentially forms a moving target for MNEs. What is expected from MNEs constantly changes, because public opinion, regulation, competition and scientific evidence on global sustainability issues usually follow a rather fitful course.

So, not everything that “saves” carbon is a “firm-specific advantage”, nor a “competence-enhancing discontinuity”.  And while the car industry might – with luck and good judgement, manage to reorientate, it won’t be so easy for the fossil fuel industry –

For firms that more heavily rely on the production of coal, climate change is a driver to develop other transition technologies. BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, which have strong positions in the production of coal, are both investing in clean coal technology and technologies to offset emissions by geological sequestration (the capture and storage of emissions in underground reservoirs). Oil firms such as Statoil and BP have also started to invest in carbon capture and storage, but are doing this cooperatively to spread the risk, thus creating a shared capability instead of an FSA.
(Kolke and Pinkse, 2008: 1367)

Well, yes, indeed. But it might be worth quoting the Shell CEO, speaking in May 2015, on this –

Van Beurden insisted that he had his hands tied from investing more heavily in renewables or CCS because they would not produce the high financial returns that investors had been used to from oil and gas. “I would lose my job over it if I just threw a few billions away [on CCS] … CCS is essential for society and … is ultimately important for our company, but listen, I have great difficulty to have shareholders focus on the quarter after next.”

And in the “research agenda” stage

The exploration of the climate change issue clearly raises a number of questions and several insights into MNE strategy and FSA-CSA configurations that may also be interesting for scholars working on more “mainstream” topics in international business. Climate change is an exemplary, perhaps even unique, issue to investigate how MNEs respond to socially relevant issues of sustain ability, because it involves fossil fuel production and consumption. Many MNEs (particularly in energy-intensive industries) recognize the strategic impact and, accordingly, mention activities that seem to hint at initiatives to develop green FSAs or change key FSAs. The study of climate change thus forms a research “frontier” that also clearly illustrates the complexities and societal relevance of international business in the current epoch.
Kolk and Pinkse, 2008: 1375-6)

Yes, we can document the bumpy slide towards the apocalypse.  Ho hum. By the time of the next work, Pinkse and Kolk (2012), Nopenhagen had happened.  Thus the abstract goes –

This paper explores how climate change affects multinational enterprises (MNEs), focusing on the challenges they face in overcoming liabilities and filling institutional voids related to the issue. Climate change is characterized by institutional failures, because there is neither an enforceable global agreement nor a market morality. Climate change is also a distinctive international business issue, as its institutional failures materialize differently in different countries. As governments are still highly involved, MNEs need to consider carefully their strategies to cope with non-market forces, including their embeddedness in multiple institutional settings. Using some illustrative examples of MNE responses to climate-related components in stimulus packages, we explore MNEs’ balancing act concerning their institutional embeddedness (or lack thereof) in home, host and supranational contexts as input for further research on the dynamics of MNE activities in relation to climate change.
(Pinkse and Kolk, 2012:333-4) (emphasis added)

And there’s good stuff on “market morality” etc –

“market morality”, that is, “the set of ethical norms that the vast majority of MNEs would attempt to practice, because, other things being equal, adopting  such moral practices are either necessary for economic survival or confer advantages that enhance the MNE’s prospects for success” (Bowie & Vaaler, 1999: 165–166). Self-imposed codes of conduct guiding moral behavior and other voluntary corporate initiatives adopted to fill institutional voids (Kolk & Van Tulder, 2005) have been only the first steps in addressing the problem, as they suffer from ineffective monitoring and enforcement mechanisms (Pinkse & Kolk, 2009). What further complicates matters is not only that MNEs have been slow in taking into account their impact on climate change, and in setting norms, but also that consumers have proven unwilling, or at least unable, to act upon climate change concerns by adjusting their purchasing behavior (Lorenzoni, Nicholson-Cole, & Whitmarsh, 2007).
(Pinkse and Kolk, 2012:333-4)

So what does it all mean for “my” two countries?  I’m glad you ask…

Griffiths, Haigh and Rassias (2007)

propose that there is a relationship between different governance systems and climate change outcomes in terms of the institutional framework, policies developed, capabilities developed to innovate and speed of adaptation. The case of the Australian approach to climate change is used to highlight the responses that occur in political and institutional environments characterised by a plurality of actors and the difficulties associated with developing a coherent national response.

With admirable understatement they comment that

Climate change approaches are seen as a cost rather than an opportunity, and institutional governance systems focus on protecting access to resources (Griffiths and Zammuto, 2005). For instance, in Australia, coal companies and industries associated with the production of energy from coal, lobby significantly for financial compensation and for protection from a range of measures associated with the introduction of carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes. Such a governance system has characterised much of the national debate on climate change in Australia.
(Griffiths et al. 2007: 417)

There’s lots of useful specific info for background about laws, policy, schemes etc.  The authors were writing just as the various pressures in Australia created an imperfect storm, that forced industry to change its tune –

there has been a recent and sudden shift in the institutional governance system in Australia, as the national government has made commitments to implement a cap and trade carbon trading scheme after 2011. The development of such a system has now become the battleground for lobby groups and major carbon emitters. Particularly, there has been a shift by the major mining and energy users to influence the creation and design of such a market. On the other side, it has signalled to business groups that they have an adjustment period to implement efficiencies to reduce their carbon emissions and encourages them to find innovations in technology and investment. Similarly, the shift in institutional governance systems, via the creation of a national framework for emissions trading, will create the conditions that will reduce differences between the individual state governments renewable energy targets and carbon sequestration strategies, thereby reducing corporate uncertainty.
(Griffiths et al. 2007: 424)

Of course, it’s all gone horribly wrong since then, with the long and bloody fight to get even a minimal emissions trading scheme leading to the scheme’s general friendlessness and easy removal by the new conservative government in 2013-4.  This will be hard to explain to future generations.

Finally (!) Jones and Levy (2007) look at business strategies in North America. Their abstract (emphasis added) sums it up.

Business has become a key part of the fabric of global environmental governance, considered here as the network which orders and regulates economic activity and its impacts. We argue that businesses generally are willing to undertake limited measures consistent with a fragmented and weak policy regime. Further, the actions of businesses act to create, shape and preserve that compromised regime. We examine three types of indicators of business responses in North America: ratings by external organizations, commitments regarding emissions, and joint political action. We find business response to be highly ambiguous, with energetic efforts yielding few results.

This one folds back neatly to the Schlicting (2013) article on ‘framing’, and also the sense of difficulty for corporate strategy in Kolk and Pinkse (2008).

Jones and Levy point out that

Companies also face considerable ‘competitive risk’, as changes in prices, technologies, and demand patterns disrupt sectors and entire supply chains. Investments in research and development are highly risky, as low-emission technologies, such as those for renewable energy, frequently require radically new capabilities that threaten to undermine the position of existing companies and open the industries to new entrants (Anderson and Tushman, 1990; Christensen, 1997).
(Jones and Levy, 2007:430)

They point out that companies got their fingers burnt before –

Moreover, several large American companies had lost substantial amounts of money in investments in renewable energy and electric vehicles in the 1970s, and the painful lessons of that earlier era had become institutionalized in the companies.
(Jones and Levy, 2007:430)

They show that by the late 1990s the initial closed industry front was fracturing –

The growth of new organizations committed to a climate compromise further undermined the [Global Climate Coalition]’s claim to be the voice of industry on climate. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change, formed in April 1998, provides not only a channel of policy influence for member companies, but also a vehicle for legitimizing the new position.
(Jones and Levy, 2007:431)

Jones and Levy were writing before Nopenhagen, but they could see the writing on the wall –

The review of corporate strategic responses to climate change sheds some insight into the paradoxical coexistence of a beehive of corporate activity on climate change yet with few tangible outcomes. Of course, it might simply be too early to evaluate the impact of corporate efforts; some investments in innovation are unlikely to yield short-term gains, and preparations for establishing the infrastructure for carbon trading are bound to take some time. Nevertheless, the results reported here suggest that business responses, especially in North America, are uneven and rather ineffective, at least in relation to the scale of action needed. Corporate responses tend to be directed toward organizational changes rather than emissions reductions per se. Here we argue that these corporate responses can be understood in the context of the emerging GHG regime. To the extent that a global regime can be said to exist, it is fragmented, and carries very weak price signals, and outside of Europe is still largely voluntary. The emerging GHG regime is simply not up to the task of a radical restructuring of energy and transportation markets.
(Jones and Levy, 2007:436)

And in their conclusion they point out

Given the prospect of a flexible and fungible carbon regime with weak caps, high transaction costs and low, if unpredictable, carbon prices, it is perhaps unsurprising that companies are currently placing more emphasis on management processes, policy influence, and market image than on major investments in risky low-emission technologies. Ahead of any mandatory caps, especially in advance of setting any baselines, investing in emissions trading infrastructure has a greater potential return than investing in reducing emissions. Firms seem to be responding to a vast, bureaucratic, complex GHG system, but one that does not actually require much in the way of emissions reductions.
(Jones and Levy, 2007:436)

Nowt’s changed since they wrote that, except the atmospheric concentration of C02 and the amount of carbon-intensive infrastructure on t’planet.  And both of those have been moving… in very much the wrong direction….

There are of course more recent articles. This was just an attempt to force myself to actively engage with the material, to read it and start to draw connections.  I will do better with better habits…


Cobb, R and Ross, M. (1997) Cultural Strategies of Agenda Denial: Avoidance, Attack and Redefinition Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press

Geels, F. (2014)  Reconceptualising the co-evolution of firms-in-industries and their environments: Developing an inter-disciplinary Triple Embeddedness Framework Research Policy 43, 261– 277