Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Business

Supervisor(s)

Dr. Pratima Bansal

Abstract

In 2005, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment reported that two-thirds of the world’s ecosystems were being exploited well beyond sustainable levels. Given that many firms across sectors rely on natural resources to conduct business, it is surprising that many have failed to make their business practices more sustainable. I believe this occurs not because companies are acting in their own enlightened self-interests, but because they are unable to perceive the severity of such issues. The key is that perceptual deficiencies are not the result of blatant disregard, but of systemic incompatibility. That is, most companies do not choose to ignore environmental harm, but their orientation is such that they often overlook it.

The goal of this dissertation is to offer an in-depth conceptualization and analysis of the role that geographical space plays in shaping a firm’s relationship to the natural environment. To do so, I develop three distinct but compatible essays that collectively answer the question, what affect does geographical space have in influencing a firm’s attention and response to environmental issues?

In the first essay, I develop a comprehensive theory of scale within the context of environmental issues, to highlight how organizational attention is constrained by scale such that when there is fit in scale between the organization and environmental issue, organizational attention will be enhanced and will result in better corporate environmental performance.

In the second essay, I go forward and empirically test the organizational dimensions of scale, which I define as geographical orientation, with the prediction that certain scale characteristics can impede a firm’s ability to perceive important environmental issues. The analysis reveals that the spread and concentration of a firm’s assets affects its environmental performance.

For the third essay, in the context of chemical emissions, I explore whether the environmental materiality of an issue affects a firm’s environmental performance. The results support the general proposition that the spatial characteristics of the issue affect a firm’s environmental performance through time.

Taken as a whole, this dissertation sheds some light on possible ways to identify and potentially mitigate unsustainable corporate behavior.


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