Hamish van der Ven — “Big-Box Retail and the Environment: Why Some Firms Innovate and Others Stagnate”

“Big-Box Retail and the Environment: Why Some Firms Innovate and Others Stagnate”
Hamish van der Ven, University of Toronto
October 2, 2013

Despite a considerable push by policy-makers to incentivize green business practices, take-up of environmental initiatives amongst North American retailers has been highly uneven. While some “big-box” retailers have launched ambitious environmental initiatives, others continue to conduct business as usual. This paper asks: why do some mega-retailers commit to ambitious environmental agendas while others in the same sector do not? And how can the answer to this question improve public policy? Using comparative case studies of four North American mega-retailers, I find that the socialization of senior executives through multi-stakeholder sustainability networks is the critical variable accounting for progressive environmental practices in some corporations and not others. This finding suggests that existing public policies that focus on making the business case for sustainability are based on incomplete assumptions about why companies “go green.”

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