Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Pratima Bansal

Second Advisor

Dr. Robert Klassen


Proponents of sustainable development advocate that economic development is intimately tied to environmental integrity and social equity. Social, environmental and financial aspects of society together form a mutually reinforcing system. Sustainability also assumes a historical and future perspective, in the sense that it takes time to improve sustainability and that sustained commitment over time is required. Extant knowledge of business sustainability, however, is based on oversimplified, binary linkages between variables. Further, few business researchers have examined sustainability over time. In an effort to address these gaps, I develop three different but tightly connected papers. Each paper challenges an assumption that sustainability scholars have held dear. First, scholars in this field have assumed that an overall evaluation of a firm’s sustainability commitment can be formed by aggregating the firm’s performance in managing social issues and environmental issues. However, through interviews with managers in sustainability, I find that corporate social performance and environmental performance are distinct constructs, which makes it quite problematic to simply combine the two. Second, sustainability scholars have implicitly assumed that sustainability management and evaluation is primarily about the levels of the three performance measures (social, environmental and financial) at certain points in time. This approach has ignored the change or growth of sustainability phenomena. In the second paper, I iii examine the growth trajectory of business sustainability, and find that the three pillars of sustainability coalesce over time. Third, by attempting to build a business case for corporate sustainability, researchers have a long tradition of investigating “does sustainability pay”. However, such a causal relationship is not consistent with the sustainability paradigm, a paradigm that is based on a systems world view and suggests simultaneous, time enduring relationships among the three pillars of business sustainability. Therefore, I propose, and find support for, that there is a simultaneous relationship among the three pillars that has been ignored by conventional causal thinking. The theory development of this thesis is based on institutional theory and the resource-based view. I use qualitative data in the first study, and large scale longitudinal firm-level data in all three studies to investigate the identified assumptions.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.