Tag Archives: Social Responsibility

Social Responsibility Research in Total Quality Management and Business Excellence (Taylor & Francis Online)

 

This is a pre-publication version of an academic paper, entitled; “Measuring the corporate managers’ attitudes toward ISO’s social responsibility standard”, that was accepted by Total Quality Management and Business Excellence (Print ISSN: 1478-3363 Online ISSN: 1478-3371).

How to Cite: Camilleri, M.A. (2018). Measuring the corporate managers’ attitudes toward ISO’s social responsibility standard. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence. (forthcoming). http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14783363.2017.1413344


Abstract

The International Standards Organisation’s ISO 26000 on social responsibility supports organisations of all types and sizes in their responsibilities towards society and the environment. ISO 26000 recommends that organisations ought to follow its principles on accountability, transparency, ethical behaviours and fair operating practices that safeguard organisations and their stakeholders’ interests. Hence, this contribution presents a critical review of ISO 26000’s guiding principles. Afterwards, it appraises the business practitioners’ attitudes towards social responsibility practices, including organisational governance, human rights, labour practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues as well as community involvement and development. A principal component analysis has indicated that the executives were primarily committed to resolving grievances and on countering corruption. The results suggested that the respondents believed in social dialogue as they were willing to forge relationships with different stakeholders. Moreover, they were also concerned about environmental responsibility, particularly on mitigating climate change and sustainable consumption. In conclusion, this paper identifies the standard’s inherent limitations as it opens up future research avenues to academia.

Keywords: ISO 26000; International Standards Organisation; Social Responsibility; Organisational Governance; Human Rights; Labour Practices; environmental responsibility; fair operating practices; consumer issues; community involvement.


Introduction

The International Standard Organisation’s ISO 26000 provides guidance on social responsibility issues for businesses and other entities. This standard comprises broad issues, comprising labour practices, conditions of employment, responsible supply chain management, responsible procurement of materials and resources, fair operating practices, recommendations for negotiations with interested parties as well as collaborative stakeholder engagement among other issues (Helms, Oliver, & Webb, 2012; Castka & Balzarova, 2008a, 2008b, 2008c). ISO 26000 is aimed at all organisations, regardless of their activity, size or location. Its core subjects respect the international norms and assist organisations on accountability, transparency and ethical behaviours.

The social responsibility standard has emerged following lengthy partnerships’ agreements and negotiations between nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and large multinational corporations (Helms et al., 2012; Boström & Halström, 2010; Castka & Balzarova, 2008a, 2008b, 2008c). Prior to ISO 26000, there were other certifiable and uncertifiable, multistakeholder standards and instruments; the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Greenpeace, Rainforest Alliance and Home Depot, among others (Balzarova & Castka, 2012; Castka & Corbett, 2016a). At the time, many organisations adopted voluntary environmental and social standards, as well as eco-labels such as ISO’s 14000, FSC, Fair Trade or the US Department of Agriculture’s USDA Organic Labelling. Like ISO 26000, their regulatory guidelines and principles encourage organisations and their stakeholders to become more socially responsible and environmentally sustainable. However, despite there are many standards and regulatory instruments, private businesses do not always provide credible information on their eco-labelling (Darnall, Ji, & Vazquez-Brust, 2016).

For this reason, environmental NGOs are putting pressure on national governments for more stringent compliance regulations on large undertakings to adhere to certified standards or ecolabels (Schwartz & Tilling, 2009). This approach could possibly inhibit the businesses and other organisations to reveal relevant information about their social responsibility and stakeholder engagement (Castka & Corbett, 2016b). Notwithstanding, there is still limited research and scant empirical evidence on how businesses are resorting to ISO 26000’s principles in their responsible managerial practices (see Hahn, 2013; Hahn & Weidtmann, 2016; Claasen & Roloff, 2012; Castka & Balzarova, 2008a, 2008b)Therefore, this contribution provides a review of the socially responsible standard’s guiding principles and appraises the executives’ attitudes towards ISO 26000. Firstly, it examines relevant theoretical insights and empirical studies on the managerial perceptions towards responsible organisational behaviours. Secondly, it sheds light on the development of ISO’s standard on social responsibility and its constituent elements. Thirdly, this paper reveals the managers’ perceptions of ISO 26000’s core topics, including organisational governance, human rights, labour practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues as well as community involvement and development. This research uses a principal component analysis (PCA) to obtain a factor solution of a smaller set of salient variables from ISO 26000’s core issues. The findings identify specific socially responsible activities which are being emphasised by the companies’ executives. The results suggest that the respondents were committed to improving their relationships with employees, marketplace as well as political and community stakeholders.

Literature review

The managerial perceptions of social responsibility

Several empirical studies have explored the managers’ attitudes towards and perceptions of corporate social responsibilities (Carollo & Guerci, 2017; Eweje & Sakaki, 2015; Moyeen & West, 2014; Fassin, Van Rossem, & Buelens, 2011; Pedersen, 2010; Basu & Palazzo, 2008; Nielsen & Thomsen, 2009 and Perrini, Russo, & Tencati, 2007, among others). A number of similar studies have gauged corporate social responsibility by adopting Fortune’s reputation index (Fryxell & Wang, 1994; Griffin & Mahon, 1997; Stanwick & Stanwick, 1998), the KLD index (Fombrun, 1998; Griffin & Mahon, 1997) or Van Riel and Fombrun’s (2007) RepTrak. Such measures required executives to assess the extent to which their company behaves responsibly towards the environment and the community (Fryxell & Wang, 1994). Despite their wide usage in past research, the appropriateness of these indices is still doubtful. For instance, Fortune’s reputation index failed to account for the multidimensionality of the corporate citizenship construct, and is suspected to be more significant of management quality than of corporate social performance (Waddock & Graves, 1997). Fortune’s past index suffered from the fact that its items were not based on theoretical arguments, as they did not appropriately represent the economic, legal, ethical and discretionary dimensions of the corporate citizenship construct.

Other academics, including Pedersen (2010), identified a set of common issues that were frequently used by managers when describing societal responsibilities. This study reported that managers still had a relatively narrow perception of societal responsibilities. Generally, they believed that CSR involves taking care of the workforce, and to manufacture products and deliver services that the customers want, in an eco-friendly manner. The managers who participated in Pedersen’s (2010) study did not believe that they had responsibilities towards society on issues such as social exclusion, Third World development and poverty reduction, among other variables. In a similar vein, Eweje and Sakaki (2015) pointed out that corporate social responsibility involved volunteering, diversity in the workplace and work–life balance. They contended that these are important areas that merit more attention, particularly for those businesses that are willing to prove their credentials. Moreover, Moyeen and West (2014) noticed that sustainable development and environmental issues often remained on the periphery of the managers’ understandings and perceptions of CSR

ISO’s social responsibility standard

In 2010, the development of ISO 26000 has represented a significant milestone in integrating socially and environmentally responsible behaviours into management processes (Toppinen, Virtanen, Mayer, & Tuppura, 2015; Hahn, 2013). ISO 26000 was developed through a participatory multi-stakeholder process with an emphasis on participatory decision-making and

democracy (Hahn & Weidtmann, 2016). For instance, the International Labour Organization (ILO) had established a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to ensure that ISO’s social responsibility standard is consistent with its very own labour standards. In fact, ISO 26000’s core subject on ‘Labour Practices’ is based on ILOs’ conventions on labour practices, including

Human Resources Development Convention, Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines, Forced Labour Convention, Freedom of Association, Minimum Wage Fixing Recommendation and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation, among others. Moreover, ISO’s core subject on ‘human rights’ is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948).

The standard comprises seven essential areas in the realms of social responsibility: organisational governance, human rights, labour practices, environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development (ISO, 2014). ISO’s goal is to encourage organisations to integrate their guiding principles on social responsibility into their management strategies, systems and processes. Therefore, ISO 26000 assists in improving environmental, social and governance communications and also provides guidance on stakeholder identification and engagement (Camilleri, 2015a). It advises the practising organisations to take into account their varied stakeholders’ interests. According to Castka and Balzarova (2008a, p. 276), ‘ISO 26000 aims to assist organisations and their networks in addressing their social responsibilities as it provides practical guidance on how to operationalise CSR, by identifying and engaging with stakeholders and enhancing credibility of reports and claims made about CSR (Hąbek & Wolniak, 2016). Therefore, this standard has the potential to capture the context-specific nature of social responsibility.

ISO 26000 has been characterised as an evolutionary step in standard innovation because it is suitable for organisations of all sizes and sectors. This standard has unique features regarding authority and legitimacy (Hahn, 2013). Its guidelines describe social responsibility as ‘the actions a firm takes to contribute to “sustainable development”’ (Perez-Baltres, Doh, Miller, & Pisani, 2012, p. 158). Hahn (2013) suggested that ISO 26000 offers specific guidance on many facets of CSR, as it helps responsible businesses in their internal and external assessments and evaluations. Furthermore, when the organisations adopt ISO 26000, they could signal their social responsibility credentials and qualities to their marketplace stakeholders (Graffin & Ward, 2010). This way they may also reduce information asymmetries among supply chain partners (King, Lenox, & Terlaak, 2005).

ISO 26000 provides a unilateral understanding of social responsibility across the globe. It acknowledges that ‘social responsibility should be an integral part of the businesses’ core strategy (ISO, 2014). A wide array of social responsibility practices and stakeholder management issues are addressed in ISO 26000. This standard aims to unify and standardise social responsibility; it also acknowledges that each organisation has a responsibility to bear that are relevant to its business (Hąbek & Wolniak, 2016; Hahn, 2013). Notwithstanding, there are different industries, organisational settings, regional or cultural circumstances that will surely affect how entities implement the ISO standards ‘recommendations on responsible behaviours’.

The corporate culture is an important driver for socially responsible activities. Therefore, CEOs play a key role in giving their face and voice to their corporate sustainability agenda (Waldman et al., 2006; Caprar & Neville, 2012). Hence, ISO 26000 can be used as a vehicle for CSR communication. Hąbek and Wolniak (2016) suggested that this standard is rooted in a quality management framework, as it holds potential to enhance the credibility of the corporations’ social responsibility claims. Similarly, Moratis (2015) argued that the concept of credibility relates to scepticism, trust and greenwashing. Other research has demonstrated that some stakeholders have used standards to enhance their credibility, learning and legitimacy (Hąbek & Wolniak, 2016; Boström & Halström, 2010). Consequently, the organisations that are renowned for their genuine CSR credentials could garner a better reputation and image among stakeholders. This will ultimately result in significant improvements to the firms’ bottom lines. An organisational culture that promotes the sustainability agenda has the potential to achieve a competitive advantage, as businesses could improve their long-term corporate financial performance (Eccles, Ioannou, & Serafeim, 2012) via the development of valuable, rare and non-imitable organisational resources and capabilities (Barney, 1986). Eccles et al. (2012) analysed the financial performance of firms with either high or low sustainability orientation. The authors found that firms with a high sustainability orientation were associated with distinct governance mechanisms for sustainability, longer time horizons and deeper stakeholder engagement, as they dedicated more attention to non-financial disclosures. Their adoption of the sustainability standards, such as ISO 26000, can also be interpreted as a signal of a responsible corporate culture (Waldman et al., 2006).

On the other hand, many academic commentators argue that ISO 26000 has never been considered as a management standard. The certification requirements have not been incorporated into ISO 26000’s development and reinforcement process, unlike other standards, including ISO 9000 and ISO 14001(Hahn, 2013). In its present form, ISO 26000 does not follow a classical plan–do–check–act–type management system approach as it is the case for ISO 14001 (Hahn, 2013). Arimura, Darnall, and Katayama (2011) reported that the facilities that were certified with ISO’s 14000 were 40% more likely to assess their suppliers’ environmental performance and 50% more likely to require that their suppliers undertake specific environmental practices. Nevertheless, Arimura, Darnall, Ganguli, and Katayama (2016) argued that although ISO 14001 was a certifiable standard, the facilities that were adopting it were no more likely to reduce their air pollution emissions than noncertified ones.

Rasche and Kell (2010) admitted that the responsibility standards can never be a complete solution to the perennial social and environmental problems; they argued that the standards have inherent limitations that need to be recognised. Certain prestandardisation preparations may have created boundaries which have restricted the stakeholders’ influence. Suchman (1995) described the pre-standardisation phase as an effort which embedded new structures and practices into already legitimate institutions. During the pre-standardisation discussions among stakeholders, there were differing opinions and not enough consensus over ISO 26000’s certification (Mueckenberger & Jastram, 2010). Other authors declared that the certification of standards does not necessarily lead to improved performance (Aravind & Christmann, 2011; King et al., 2005). The development of ISO 26000 involved lengthy, multi-stakeholder corroborations that did not necessarily ensure legitimacy or guarantee that the standard could be considered as an enforceable instrument for industry participants. Balzarova and Castka (2012) also pointed out that the scope of the ISO 26000 standard was unclear as the actual implications for social and environmental improvement were still unknown. Many stakeholders, including chief executives, should have been in a position to leverage their arguments during the pre-standardisation arrangements (Balzarova & Castka, 2012). The responsible businesses could have discussed possible avenues for the standard’s reinforcement. For instance, those organisations that are in complete compliance with ISO 26000 are not required to disclose their social responsibility reports and to make them readily accessible to stakeholders (Balzarova & Castka, 2012). This contentious issue could lead organisations to not fully conform themselves to this uncertifiable standard.

Different industry representatives were (and are still) concerned that costly certification requirements could overburden organisations, particularly in emerging economies. The organisations’ stakeholders, including their employees, may be against the introduction of new standards as they could affect their firms’ bottom lines. When the standards are enforced, industry stakeholders need to comply with their requirements. The companies will usually have to absorb the cost of compliance with the standards (Delmas, 2002). Moreover, the standards may also lead to the creation of trade barriers and to significant increases in production costs (Montabon, Melnyk, Sroufe, & Calantone, 2000). Notwithstanding, when introducing new standards, the standard setters’ external audits could reveal regulatory non-compliance among adopting organisations (Schwartz & Tilling, 2009; Delmas, 2002). As a result, the industries’ implementation of a new standard such as ISO 26000 could be time-consuming because it may require holistic adaptations to change extant organisational processes. The standardisation of social responsibility has also been criticised for being costly and thereby difficult to implement, especially among the smaller companies (Toppinen et al., 2015).

Ávila et al.’s (2013) survey indicated that ISO 26000’s themes were under-represented, particularly those involving labour practices and the environment. The authors posited that the organisations that were supposedly following ISO 26000 have often faced difficulties in incorporating the social responsibility throughout all organisational mechanisms, processes and decisions. Ávila et al. (2013) argued that the businesses’ unsatisfactory engagement with consumer issues was even more serious, as they justify the organisations’ existence. It may appear that Ávila et al.’s (2013) research participants were only concerned about their corporate image (as they were supposedly implementing the social responsibility concept and its premises). Evidently, these firms were less interested in undertaking necessary actions to ensure truthful and fair compliance with ISO 26000.

Methodology

This research has explored the senior executives’ stance on ISO’s social responsibility standard. The respondents were all employed by listed companies in a small European member country. They were expected to indicate their attitudes towards and perceptions of ISO 26000’s core topics, including organisational governance, human rights, labour practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues as well as community involvement and development. The questionnaire’s design, layout and content were consistent with the social responsibility standard. Respondents were asked to indicate the strength of their agreement or disagreement with ISO 26000’s subjects. The survey instrument made use of the five-point Likert scaling mechanism, where a numerical value was attributed to the informant’s opinion and perception. The responses were coded from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) with 3 signalling indecision. Such symmetric, equidistant scaling has provided an interval level of measurement.

An online questionnaire link was sent electronically by means of an email, directly to the senior executives of all companies that were listed on the Malta Stock Exchange. There were numerous attempts to ensure that the questionnaire has been received by all email recipients. Many steps were taken to ensure a high response rate, which included reminder emails and numerous telephone calls. Eventually, there was a total of 374 (out of 1626) respondents who have willingly chosen to take part in this research. This sample represented a usable response rate of 23% of all targeted research participants. The surveyed respondents gave their socio-demographic details about their ‘role’, ‘age’, ‘gender’ and ‘education’ in the latter part of the survey questionnaire. The objective of this designated profile of owner-managers was to gain a good insight into their ability to make evaluative judgements in taking strategic decisions on social responsibility matters. Table 1 presents the profile of respondents who participated in this study.

 

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Following the data gathering process, the researcher carried out descriptive statistics to analyse the distribution and dispersion of the data. Afterwards, factor analysis (FA) data reduction techniques were used to achieve the desired reliability, timely and accurate assessment of the findings. Unless an instrument is reliable, it cannot be valid. The FA was developed to explore and discover the main construct or dimension in the data matrix. The primary objective of this analysis was to reduce the number of variables in the data-set and to detect any underlying structure between them (Hair, Anderson, Tatham, & Black, 1998). Therefore, FA identified the interrelationships among variables. FA extracted components to obtain a factor solution of a smaller set of salient variables which exhibited the highest variation from the linear combination of original variables (Hair et al., 1998). It then removed this variance and produced a second linear combination which explained the maximum proportion of the remaining variance. The first step was to decide which factor components were going to be retained in the PCA. This approach was considered appropriate as there were variables that shared close similarities and highly significant correlations. The criterion for retaining factors is that each retained component must have some sort of face validity and/or theoretical validity, but prior to the rotation process, it was impossible to interpret what each factor meant. The first component accounted for a fairly large amount of the total variance. Each succeeding component had smaller amounts of variance. Although a large number of components could be extracted, only the first few components will be important enough to be retained for interpretation.

The SPSS default was set to keep any factor with an eigenvalue larger than 1.0. If a factor component displayed an eigenvalue less than 1.0, it would have explained less variance than the original variable. Once the factors have been chosen, the next step was to rotate them. The goal of rotation was to achieve what is called a ‘simple structure’, with high factor loadings on one factor and low loadings on all others. The factor loading refers to the correlation between each retained factor and each of the original variables. With regard to determining the significance of the factor loading, this study had followed the guidelines for identifying significant factor loadings based on the specific sample size, as suggested by Hair et al. (1998).

Analysis

The survey questionnaires’ responses were imported directly into SPSS. After filtering responses and eliminating unusable or incomplete survey observations, a total of 374 valid responses were obtained. The managers of the listed companies were required to indicate their level of agreement with ISO 26000 core subjects. Reliability and appropriate validity tests have been carried out during the analytical process. Cronbach’s alpha was calculated to test for the level of consistency among the items.

Principal component analysis

Bartlett’s test of sphericity revealed sufficient correlation in the data-set to run a PCA since P< .001. The Kaiser–Meyer– Olkin’s Test (which measures the sampling adequacy) was also acceptable, as it was well above 0.5. With respect to scale reliability, all constructs were analysed for internal consistency by using Cronbach’s alpha. The composite reliability coefficient (Bagozzi & Yi, 1988) was 0.79, well above the minimum acceptance value of 0.7.

PCA has been chosen to obtain a factor solution of a smaller set of salient variables, from a much larger data-set. A varimax rotation method was used to spread variability more evenly among the constructs. PCA was considered appropriate as there were variables exhibiting an underlying structure. Many variables shared close similarities as there were highly significant correlations. Therefore, PCA has identified the patterns within the data and expressed it by highlighting the relevant similarities (and differences) in each and every component. In the process, the data have been compressed as it was reduced in a number of dimensions without much loss of information. From SPSS, the PCA has produced a table which illustrated the amount of variance in the original variables (with their respective initial eigenvalues), which were accounted for every component. There was also a percentage of variance column which indicated the expressed ratio, as a percentage of the variance (for each component). A brief description of the extracted factor components, together with their eigenvalues and their respective percentage of variance, is provided in Table 2 . The sum of the eigenvalues equalled the number of components. Only principal components with eigenvalues greater than 1 were extracted, and they accounted for more than 63% variance before rotation. The PCA analysis yielded 17 extracted components from ISO 26000’s 37 variables. These factor components were labelled following a cross-examination of the variables with the higher loadings. Typically, the variables with the highest correlation scores had mostly contributed towards the make-up of the respective component.

total variance

Discussion and conclusions

Many stakeholders, particularly the regulatory ones, from the most advanced economies are increasingly inquiring about the corporations’ responsible behaviours. Very often, multinational businesses are resorting to the NGOs’ tools and instruments, such as process and performance-oriented standards in corporate governance, human rights, labour, environmental

protection, anti-corruption as well as health and safety, among others (Camilleri, 2015a). In this light, ISO 26000 standard has been chosen to investigate company executives’ stance towards social responsibility practices.

This empirical research suggests that the respondents’ responsible and sustainable behaviours were both internally and externally focused. The managers indicated that they were paying attention to their human rights issues, labour and fair operating practices. Table 2 reported that the executives gave due importance to resolving grievances and anti-corruption within their organisation. This finding is consistent with other contributions which link CSR with the human resources management literature (Currie, Gormley, Roche, & Teague, 2016; Hahn, 2013; Wettstein, 2012; Pedersen, 2010; Ewing, 1989). The workplace conflict may be intrinsic to the nature of work, because employees and managers may have hard-to-reconcile competing interests (Currie et al., 2016). Ewing (1989) argued that companies develop grievance procedures to help them in their due processes. The author maintained that its development leads to better morale and productivity, fewer union interventions and less likelihood of being sued. However, grievance procedures could incur operating costs, often consume large amounts of previous time from executives and may open the door to chronic malcontents.

This study evidenced that the corporations’ managers were clearly against corrupt practices. Today’s listed businesses are increasingly expected to explain how they are fighting fraudulent activities and bribery issues. This study was conducted in a European Union jurisdiction which mandates a ‘comply or explain’ directive on non-financial reporting (Camilleri, 2015b). The European corporations are expected to be as transparent as possible, to disclose material information and to limit the pursuit of exploitative, unfair or deceptive practices (Camilleri, 2015b). Moreover, large organisations that are operating in member states (that have ratified the ILO’s conventions on labour rights) are morally and legally bound to promote fair operating practices and to engage in social dialogue. The findings suggest that the respondents were committed to forging relationships with different stakeholders, including suppliers and market intermediaries, the wider communities at large, as well as political groups, among others. Porter and Kramer (2011) contended that capable local suppliers foster greater logistical efficiency and ease of collaboration in areas, such as training, in order to boost productivity. Therefore, the success of every company is affected by supporting stakeholders and the extant infrastructure around it. The big businesses’ stakeholder engagement is rooted in institutional theory, as they are capable of aligning themselves with their broader context (Brammer, Jackson, & Matten, 2012). In fact, this study has also measured the respondents’ attitudes on social engagement (including the creation of jobs and skills development, the conditions of employment and the individuals’ civil and political rights) and on the subject of discrimination towards vulnerable groups, among other contingent topics. Moreover, the listed companies’ executives also indicated that they were concerned on environmental sustainability, particularly on global climate change. The corporations’ managers did not explain how they were committed to reduce the carbon footprint or prevent the emission of greenhouse gases. However, they may use new technologies, including renewable energy, water use and conservation. Alternatively, they could change older equipment to reduce pollution and make it more efficient and economical. The results suggest that respondents respected property rights, they utilised and consumed sustainable resources, and were concerned on protecting the natural environment.

Limitations and suggestions for future research

The extant literature has recognised this ISO 26000’s inherent limitations. For the time being, the businesses that are using this standard are not required to disclose material information on their social responsibility practices to stakeholders. One of the most contentious issues is that ISO 26000 still remains voluntary and uncertifiable. The practitioners may ultimately decide not to fully conform themselves with this standard, as they are not bound to do so. For this reason, ISO 26000’s role is still limited for regulators, standard-setting organisations and policy-makers.

In a nutshell, this paper has advanced an empirical study that explored the business executives’ appraisal of social responsibility practices. It has employed ISO 26000 as a comprehensive measure for organisational governance, human rights, labour practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development. Moreover, this contribution has critically analysed key theoretical underpinnings and previous empirical studies on the social responsibility standard. Further research may yield other conclusions about how responsible organisations and corporations could use this standard to appraise their social responsibility endeavours. Future studies could explore different stakeholders’ views, other than the corporation executives’ stance on ISO 26000 subjects. Academia could utilise ISO’s broad standard as a measure for social responsibility behaviours. Moreover, qualitative research could clarify in depth and breadth how organisations are mapping their progress and advancement in the implementation and monitoring of the standard’s responsible initiatives. Future research could identify certain difficulties in incorporating the social responsibility standard throughout the organisational systems and processes.

Acknowledgements

The author thanks this journal’s editor and his anonymous reviewers for their insightful remarks and suggestions.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

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Hahn , R. (2013). ISO 26000 and the standardization of strategic management processes for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Business Strategy and the Environment. Retrieved from http://ssrn. com/abstract, 2094226

Hahn , R., & Weidtmann , C. (2016). Transnational governance, deliberative democracy, and the legitimacy of ISO 26000 analyzing the case of a global multistakeholder process. Business & Society, 55(1), 90–129. doi:10.1177/0007650312462666

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ISO 26000 standard on social responsibility. Academy of Management Journal, 55, 1120–1145. doi:10.5465/amj.2010.1045

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Responsible Investing: Making a Positive Impact

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Impact investing is one of the fastest growing and promising areas of innovative development finance (Thornley, Wood, Grace & Sullivant, 2011; Freireich & Fulton, 2009). This form of socially-responsible investment (SRI) also has its roots in the venture capital community where investors unlock a substantial volume of private and public capital into companies, organisations and funds – with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.

The stakeholders or actors in the impact investing industry can be divided into four broad categories: asset owners who actually own capital; asset managers who deploy capital; demand-side actors who receive and utilise the capital; and service providers who help make this market work.

Impact investments can be made in both emerging and developed markets, and target a range of returns from below market to market rate; depending on the investors’ strategic goals. Bugg-Levine and Emerson (2011) argued that impact investing aligns the businesses’ investments and purchase decisions with their values. Defining exactly what is (and what is not) an impact investment has become increasingly important as it appears that the term has taken off among academia and practitioners.

The impact investments are usually characterised by market organisations that are driven by a core group of proponents including foundations, high-net worth individuals, family offices, investment banks and development finance institutions. Responsible entities are mobilising capital for ‘investments that are intended to create social impact beyond financial returns’ (Jackson, 2013; Freireich & Fulton 2009). Specific examples of impact investments may include; micro-finance, community development finance, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, conservation, micro-finance and affordable and accessible basic services, including; housing, healthcare, education and clean technology among others.

Micro-finance institutions in developing countries and affordable housing schemes in developed countries have been the favorite vehicles for these responsible investments, though impact investors are also beginning to diversify across a wider range of sectors (see Saltuk, Bouri, & Leung 2011; Harji & Jackson 2012). Nevertheless, micro-finance has represented an estimated 50% of European impact investing assets (EUROSIF, 2014). This form of investing has grown to an estimated €20 billion market in Europe alone (EUROSIF, 2014). The Netherlands and Switzerland were key markets for this investment strategy, as they represented an estimated two thirds of these assets. These markets were followed by Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Generally, the investors’ intent is to ensure that they achieve positive impacts in society. Therefore, they would in turn expect tangible evidence of positive outcomes (and impacts) of their capital. Arguably, the evaluation capacity of impact investing could increase opportunities for dialogue and exchange. Therefore, practitioners are encouraged to collaborate, exchange perspectives and tools to strengthen their practices in ways that could advance impact investing. The process behind on-going encounters and growing partnerships could surely be facilitated through conferences, workshops, online communities and pilot projects. Moreover, audit and assurance ought to be continuously improved as institutions and investors need to be equipped with the best knowledge about evaluation methods. Hence, it is imperative that University and college courses are designed, tested and refined to improve the quality of education as well as  professional training and development in evaluating responsible investments.

For evaluation to be conducted with ever more precision and utility, it must be informed by mobilising research and analytics. Some impact investing funds and intermediaries are already using detailed research and analysis on investment portfolios and target sectors. At the industry-wide level, the work of the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) and IRIS (a catalogue of generally accepted Environmental, Social and Governance – ESG performance metrics) is generating large datasets as well as a series of case studies on collaborative impact investments. Similarly, the Global Impact Investing Rating System (GIIRS) also issues quarterly analytics reports on companies and their respective funds in industry metrics (Camilleri, 2015).

For the most part, those responsible businesses often convert positive impact-investment outcomes into tangible benefits for the poor and the marginalised people (Garriga & Melé, 2004). Such outcomes may include increased greater food security, improved housing, higher incomes, better access to affordable services (e.g. water, energy, health, education, finance), environmental protection, and the like (Jackson, 2013).

Interestingly, high sustainability companies significantly outperform their counterparts over the long-term, both in terms of stock market and accounting performance (Eccles, Ioannou & Serafeim, 2012). This out-performance is stronger in sectors where the customers are individual consumers, rather than companies (Eccles et al., 2012).

It may be complicated and time-consuming to quantify how enterprises create various forms of humanitarian and environmental value, yet some approaches and analytical tools can help to address today’s societal challenges, including the return on impact investments in social and sustainability projects.

References

Bugg-Levine, A., & Emerson, J. (2011). Impact investing: Transforming how we make money while making a difference. innovations, 6(3), 9-18.
Camilleri, M. A. (2015). Environmental, social and governance disclosures in Europe. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, 6(2), 224-242.

Eccles, R. G., Ioannou, I., & Serafeim, G. (2012). The impact of a corporate culture of sustainability on corporate behavior and performance (No. W17950). National Bureau of Economic Research.

EUROSIF (2014). Press Release: 6th Sustainable and Responsible Investment Study 2014. Europe-based national Sustainable Investment Forums. http://www.eurosif.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Press-Release-European-SRI-Study-2014-English-version.pdf (Accessed 14 May 2016).

Freireich, J., & Fulton, K. (2009). Investing for social and environmental impact: A design for catalyzing an emerging industry. Monitor Institute, January.

Garriga, E., & Melé, D. (2004). Corporate social responsibility theories: Mapping the territory. Journal of business ethics, 53(1-2), 51-71.

Harji, K., & Jackson, E. T. (2012). Accelerating impact: Achievements, challenges and what’s next in building the impact investing industry. New York, NY: The Rockefeller Foundation.

Jackson, E. T. (2013). Interrogating the theory of change: evaluating impact investing where it matters most. Journal of Sustainable Finance & Investment, 3(2), 95-110.

Saltuk, Y., Bouri, A., & Leung, G. (2011). Insight into the impact investment market: An in-depth analysis of investor perspectives and over 2,200 transactions. New York, NY: J.P. Morgan.

Thornley, B., Wood, D., Grace, K., & Sullivant, S. (2011). Impact Investing a Framework for Policy Design and Analysis. InSight at Pacific Community Ventures & The Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard University.

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Quality Education for Smart, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth

imagesThe promotion of quality education has re-emerged as an important policy objective across many countries during the past decade. For instance, the aims of Europe 2020 strategy (that was launched in 2010) were to improve the EU’s competitiveness and productivity that underpin a sustainable social market economy (EU, 2010 a,b). The strategy identified three priorities as the main pillars of this strategy:

  • Smart growth—developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation;
  • Sustainable growth—promoting a more resource efficient, greener and more competitive economy; and
  • Inclusive growth—fostering a high-employment economy delivering economic, social and territorial cohesion (Pasimeni & Pasimeni, 2015).

Significant investments have already been made across the globe to raise relevant competencies that help to improve social outcomes (e.g. social inclusion, social equity and social capital) since these are known to affect educational and labour market success.

In a similar vein, the fourth United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG4) and its 10 targets represent an ambitious and universal agenda to develop better skills for better lives. Five of its 10 targets are concerned with improving the quality of education for individual children, young people and adults, and to give them better and more relevant knowledge and skills. During the last few decades; major progress has been made towards increasing access to education at all levels; from school readiness among young children through achieving literacy and numeracy at primary school, increasing enrolment rates in schools particularly for women and girls to equipping young adults with knowledge and skills for decent work and global citizenship (UNSDG4, 2015). In this light, the SDG4’s targets are the following (UNSDG4, 2015):

Quality education

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes;

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education;

By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university;

By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship;

By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations;

By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy;

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development;

Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all;

By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries. By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing states (UNSDG4, 2015).

However, The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) the world’s most widely used global metric to measure the quality of learning outcomes, as well as its adult version, the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), underlined that although many countries may have  their children in school; only a proportion of them achieve adequate levels of proficiency by the end of lower secondary education (PISA, 2012). This finding does not augur well for economic, social and sustainable development.

Bolder efforts are required to make even greater strides to achieve the sustainable development goal of quality education for all. A centralised educational policy may help to achieve the desired outcomes. Well-laid out curricula are capable of successfully developing the full potential of lifelong learners. In addition, the government’s policies of taxation and redistribution of income may also help to counteract inequalities in some segments of society.

The provision of quality education introduces certain mechanisms that equip people with relevant knowledge and skills that they need for today’s labour market. Active employment policies are required to help unemployed people find work. The overall objective of the employability programmes is the reintegration of jobseekers and the inactive individuals into the labour market as well as the provision of assistance to employed persons to secure and advance in their job prospects.

 

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The rationale behind ISO26000 – the standard on social responsibility

In 2010, the development of ISO 26000 has represented a milestone in multi-stakeholder standards development that supported the integration of social responsibility into management processes (Toppinen, Virtanen, Mayer & Tuppura, 2015; Hahn, 2013). Yet, ISO 26000 has never been considered as a management standard as its use cannot be certified unlike the earlier ISO standards, such as ISO 9000 and ISO 14001. The certification requirement has not been incorporated into the development and reinforcement process of ISO 26000 because industry representatives were concerned that costly certification requirements could overburden their businesses. Nevertheless, ISO’s work item proposal for organizational social responsibility was intended to accomplish the following issues:

  • Assist organizations in addressing their social responsibilities while respecting cultural, societal, environmental, and legal differences and economic development conditions;
  • Provide practical guidance related to making social responsibility operational;
  • Assist with identifying and engaging with stakeholders and enhancing credibility of reports and claims made about social responsibility;
  • Emphasize performance results and improvement;
  • Increase confidence and satisfaction in organizations among their customers and other stakeholders;
  • Achieve consistency with existing documents, international treaties and conventions, and existing ISO standards;
  • Promote common terminology in the social responsibility field;
  • Broaden awareness of social responsibility;
  • This standard is not intended to reduce government’s authority to address the social responsibility of organizations.

(Arzova, 2009 in Idowu & Filho, 2009; ASQ, n.d.).

ISO 26000 thus aims to help organizations manage their social responsibility. It helps to improve the individuals’ working and living conditions, whilst fostering better opportunities to different organizations as they benchmark their social responsibility efforts. ISO 26000 has the potential to capture the context-specific nature of social responsibility. Even though the standard aims to unify and standardize social responsibility practices, it also acknowledges that organizations have a responsibility to bear as they are expected to address the strategic areas that are relevant to their business (Hahn, 2013; Figge, Hahn, Schaltegger & Wagner, 2002).

Therefore, the ISO 26000 standard provides guidance on the integration of social responsibility into management processes and on matters relating to stakeholder engagement. Its core subjects represent the most essential areas of social responsibility that an organization should take into consideration in order to maximize its contribution to sustainable development. The standard’s goal is to encourage organizations to adopt socially responsible approaches by reviewing their extant operating practices on organizational governance, human rights, labor practices, environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues and community involvement and development (ISO, 2014). ISO 26000 provides guidance on stakeholder identification and engagement, it assists in improving social responsibility communications and it helps to integrate responsible business practices into strategies, systems and processes. Hence, ISO26000 advises the practicing organizations to take into account their varied stakeholders’ interests. The constructive partnerships agreements with multiple stakeholders are beneficial for the potential of effective consensus building, knowledge sharing, interest representation, and achievement of legitimacy (Fransen & Kolk 2007). According to Castka and Balzarova 2008a; p. 276), ‘ISO 26000 aims to assist organizations and their network in addressing their social responsibilities – as they provide practical guidance that is related to operationalizing CSR, identifying and engaging with stakeholders and enhancing credibility of reports and claims made about CSR’. ISO 26000 can be viewed as an approach to CSR that is rooted in a quality management framework. Moratis (2015) has also reiterated the key contents and tenets of ISO 26000 as he examined strategies that could enhance the credibility of the corporations’ social responsibility claims. He argued that the concept of credibility relates to skepticism, trust and greenwashing. Consequently, the organizations that are renowned for their CSR credentials will have a better reputation and image among stakeholders. This will result in significant improvements to the firms’ bottom lines.

Berman, Wicks, Kotha & Jones (1999) suggested that one approach to how organisations approach stakeholder management is based on an instrumental approach (strategic stakeholder management). They held that the organizations’ concern toward stakeholders is motivated by their self-interest as they strive to improve their financial performance. Yet, there were several empirical studies that have often yielded contradictory results about whether social responsibility can bring financial returns (Camilleri, 2012, Orlitzky, Schmidt & Rynes, 2003; McWilliams & Siegel, 2001; Waddock & Graves, 1997; Russo & Fouts, 1997). Nevertheless, an increasing number of studies reported that the social responsible behaviors should be used strategically (Husted & Salazar, 2006). Others argued that social responsibility offers opportunities for market differentiation, as it could be a source of competitive advantage (Russo & Fouts, 1997).

Donaldson and Preston (1995) maintained that social responsibility is not fully driven by commercial factors. Their altruistic social responsibility perspective (or intrinsic stakeholder commitment) approach assumed that organizations have a normative (moral) commitment to advance their stakeholders’ interests. Similarly, Castka and Balzarova (2008a) have proposed an exhaustive list of social responsibility predictors that were drawn from three perspectives: strategic, altruistic and coercive prior to the formulation of ISO26000. They listed ten propositions in relation to social responsibility orientation of organizations or networks, differences in regulatory systems, and the role of governments and national environments.

One of the mechanisms that led to the development of the social responsibility agenda is a pressure of different groups of activists, consumers and non-governmental organizations. For instance, stakeholders may exert pressure over organizations to adopt social and environmental practices that exceed the minimum requirements that are mandated by legislation and regulation (Christmann & Taylor, 2004; Corbett & Kirsch, 2001). Nevertheless, there may be other stakeholders who could generate new societal expectations and consequently lead to new business practices. In fact, it is a very common practice amongst multinational supply chains to use well established codes of conducts that are imposed on others by the most powerful players (Castka and Balzarova, 2008a).

Organizations ought to consider which aspects of social responsibility to invest in (McWilliams & Siegel, 2001). Their social responsibility can include internal aspects (i.e. physical environment, working conditions, communication and transparency parameters) as well as external aspects (community relations, supplier relations, shareholder relations (Kok, Van der Wiele, McKenna, & Brown, 2001). McWilliams & Siegel (2001) held that there is an ideal level of CSR that managers can determine via cost–benefit analyses.

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The Circular Economy Agenda for Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility

Most of the products we buy and consume are bound to reach their ‘end of life’ at some stage. To date, business and industry have customarily followed an economic model that is built on the premise of ‘take-make-consume and dispose’. When goods worn out or are no longer desired, they are often discarded as waste. Such a linear model also assumes that raw materials and resources are abundant, available and cheap to dispose of. However, the improper disposal of waste in landfills could cause health risks for society. Similarly, industrial and mining activities are causing resource depletion as well as pollution problems. The incineration of waste products also creates the need to dispose of residual toxic metals, including lead and mercury, which could also contaminate groundwater. Notwithstanding, it is envisaged that the reserves of some of globe’s key elements and minerals shall be depleted within the next century. At the same time, land degradation is constantly impacting on the natural environment, as arable land continues to disappear. In addition, plastic waste dumped into our seas and oceans is responsible for the deaths of millions of fish, seabirds, and sea mammals. Furthermore, the warming of the earth’s climate, that is one of the outcomes of carbon emissions from fossil fuels, is yet another serious problem facing today’s society.

The world’s growing populations and their increased wealth is inevitably leading to greater demands for limited and scarce resources. Boulding’s famous paper from 1966, “The economics of the coming spaceship Earth” anticipated that man will need to find his place in a cyclical ecological system which is capable of continuous reproduction of material. He went on to suggest that at the other end the effluents of the system are passed out into noneconomic reservoirs, including the atmosphere and the oceans. Of course, these ecological environments are not appropriated and do not enter into the exchange system. Twenty-five years ago, Granzin and Olsen (1991) reported that the US municipalities were already running out of landfills. These contentious issues underline the perennial conflict between economic development and environmental protection. Today’s society and its economic models still rely too much on resource extraction and depletion. If solutions are to be found, the public must be encouraged to alter a number of its irresponsible behaviours.

In this light, this contribution suggests that there is scope in using resources more efficiently; as better eco-designs, waste prevention and reuse of materials can possibly bring net savings for businesses, while also reducing emissions. In fact, WEF (2014) indicated that a shift towards CE can generate over US$ 500 million in material cost savings, 100,000 new jobs and prevent 100 million tons of waste globally, within five years. This means that there is a business case for CE as significant resource efficiencies could bring a new wave of smart, sustainable growth and competitiveness.

The basis of the CE economic approach lies in extracting the embedded costs of resources; through re-using, repairing, refurbishing, recycling and restoring materials and products throughout their life cycle. Arguably, what used to be regarded as ‘waste’ could be turned into a valuable resource for business and industry. The CE concept could be perceived as a response to the aspiration for sustainable growth in the context of increased regulatory pressures toward controlled operations management and environmentally responsible practices. Therefore, the setting of coherent policy frameworks and appropriate legislation could help to raise the bar for more responsible behaviours amongst public and private organisations.

Initially, the CE approach was being implemented in western countries were it was championed by a number of environmental NGOs (EMF, 2013; WEF, 2014). However, back in 2008, the People’s Republic of China had enacted a national law that promoted the CE model. Interestingly, China has experienced an average economic growth of 9.5% over the past two decades (since the start of their business-friendly policies and reforms). The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has recognised the significance of the rapid industrialisation in the Chinese scenario. Hence, UNEP in collaboration with the European Commission and Asia Pro Eco Programme have supported the Chinese city of Guiyang through the ‘Policy Reinforcement for Environmentally-Sound and Socially-Responsible Economic Development – PRODEV. In 2003, this city was still considered a relatively, underdeveloped region although it had a population of more than 3 million. For this reason, Guiyang had great potential as a pilot city for the exploration of sustainable development models (UNEP, 2006). In 2005, PRODEV supported Guiyang’s policy frameworks, financial systems that were intended to help the private sector development, facilitated technology transfers and sustained infrastructural development. PRODEV specified the best environmentally sound practices as it demonstrated the use of cleaner production processes (UNEP, 2006). Guiyang’s businesses have learned how to increase their operational efficiencies through better use of resources. These developments have also brought significant cost savings, and improvements in the firms’ bottom line. At the time, China needed a new sustainable development model which had the ability to ‘achieve improvements in resource productivity and eco-efficiency’ (Yuan, Bi, and Moriguichi, 2006:7). The country’s central development goal came into force in January 2009 as environmental conditions were expected to deteriorate due to rapid urban and industrial growth prospects.

In a similar vein, the European Union (EU) Commission has encouraged businesses to reuse, recycle and reduce resources to prevent the loss of valuable materials (EU, 2014). The EU Commission explained that, “new business models, eco-designs and industrial symbiosis can move the community towards zero-waste; reduce greenhouse emissions and environmental impacts” (EU, 2014:4). It transpired that the Europe has already started to prepare the ground work toward this transition. In fact, the ‘Resource Efficient Europe’ was one of the EU2020’s flagship ideas. This EU initiative involved the coordination of cross-national action plans and policies on the formulation of sustainable growth. The EU’s CE proposition was intended to bring positive environmental impacts, real cost savings, and greater profits. EU (2014) indicated that improvements in waste prevention and eco-design, the use and reuse of resources, and similar measures could translate to a net savings of € 600 billion, or 8 % of annual turnover (for EU businesses), while reducing total annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4%. This EU communication anticipated that the market for eco-industrial products will double between 2010 and 2020. It also posited that internationally, resource-efficiency improvements are in demand across a wide range of sectors. Lately, the EU has published a call for researchers, specifically in; (i) CIRC-01-2016: Eco-innovative approaches for the circular economy: large-scale demonstration projects, (ii) CIRC-02-2016: Water in the context of the circular economy, (iii) CIRC-03-2016: Smart specialisation for systematic eco-innovation / circular economy, (iv) CIRC-04-2016: New models and economic incentives for circular economy business and (v) CIRC-05-2016: Unlocking the potential for urban organic growth (EU, 2015b). Moreover, the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) has also unleashed a new financing avenue for future investments in infrastructure and innovation, including circular economy projects and closed loop systems.

Across the Atlantic, the US and Canada have also endorsed the circular economy perspective. The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation described the circular economy as a model that focuses on the careful management of material flows through product design, reverse logistics, business model innovation, and cross-sector collaboration. The US Foundation recognised that this regenerative model offers viable business opportunities that tackle environmental issues while stimulating economic growth and development. Similarly, Canada’s ‘Circular Economy Working Group’ (CEWG) has also encouraged the wider adoption of circular approaches as illustrated in Figure 1. This working group supports knowledge sharing on CE through a series of webinars and other avenues. They also featured numerous case studies that have presented the benefits of key circular business models.

 

                                  Figure 1. The Circular Business Model

ce                                    (Accenture, 2014 in CEWG, 2015)

Although the circular economy is a relatively new notion, there could be potential pitfalls in its policy formulation and application. Moreover, businesses and industries would probably resent being imposed any mandatory changes in their established behaviours. It is very likely that they would opt to remain in their status quo, where they are ‘locked-in’ to their traditional linear models. For the time being, many companies could not be knowledgeable about the CE perspective. The terms that are actually being used to describe both linear and circular economies are potentially misleading, as both combinations already exist, but in very different contexts.

Arguably, the long term investments for an active engagement in sustainable CE practices could possibly result in significant improvements in operational efficiencies. However, CE approaches may still be perceived as novel, risky and complex. Notwithstanding, the prices of green technologies do not necessarily reflect the real costs of resources and raw materials. Macro-environmental factors, including political, economic, social and technological issues could also impact on CE behaviours. Moreover, there may be policy makers and regulators who may not want to support the transition towards the circular economy. Of course, it would be better if governments, civil societies and the respective industries work in tandem to resolve the contentious issues relating to the increased scarce and limited resources, across the globe.

In conclusion, the CE concept has the potential to maximize the functioning of global eco-systems as it could lead to significant benefits to societal well-being. There are implications for the re-alignment of economic and management practice with well laid-out ecological and social models. Future research should begin to incorporate the latest ecological knowledge into our understanding of naturalistic economic models and systems, without silencing the social and human dimension.

References

Accenture. (2014), “Circular Advantage: Innovative Business Models and Technologies to Create value in a World without Limits to Growth”, available at: https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insight-circular-advantage-innovative-business-models-value-growth.aspx (accessed on the 12th October, 2015).

Boulding, K.E. (1966) The economics of coming spaceship earth in Jarret, H. (Ed.), Environmental Quality in a Growing Economy, Johns Hopkins Pres, Baltimore, M.D. pp. 3–14

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