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Banking for a low carbon future: a multi-stage model of corporate climate change responses in a low-salience industry

  • While there is a great sense of urgency in the scientific community to act now in order to slow the imminent negative effects of global warming, most organizations continue to run their operations as though the external context has not changed significantly. For the banking sector, in particular not much research has been conducted in the area of their strategic engagement with climate change (CC), despite the fact that the engagement of this sector is crucial for the transition to a low-carbon economy. This is why this thesis focuses on the banking sector. Through an exploratory comparative case study of four banks, this thesis investigates mechanisms that have led to, or have been prevented from, the integration of climate change in the respective bank’s corporate strategies. In particular, it answers the following questions: How are banks interpreting climate change in their organizational context? To what degree does the initial individual interpretation influence the attentional distribution through structures and communication of the issue internally? Can this explain the variance in observed strategic choices? In order to answer those questions, a multi-level analysis was conducted using three different theoretical perspectives: the macro, meso and micro. 1. The macro lens, grounded in institutional theory, is important in order to generate understanding about the perception of current institutional pressures possibly influencing corporate responses. 2. The meso lens, grounded in the Attention Based View of the Firm, serves to analyze how attention structures inside the banks influence the distribution of attention towards the topic and influence the degree of integrating climate change-related aspects across the organization. 3. The micro lens, based on the concept of moral intensity (Jones, 1991), serves as an alternative interpretation model to explore how managers make sense of climate change as individuals. Further, the concept of “issue selling” investigates what language managers use to generate attention regarding climate change while using different attentional structures explored through the meso lens. The findings are based on four case studies of banks located in Europe, each of which show a different degree of climate change integration in their corporate strategy. The case studies drew upon field research including 23 semi-structured interviews with senior managers and members of the executive teams from those four banks, six interviews with stakeholders and a comprehensive analysis of publicly available corporate documents, company-related media releases, videos and further interviews, but also confidential corporate material that was made available to me. Through analysis of the data, the following findings can be made: Most banks perceive climate change in terms of pressure: coercive pressure from clients, very limited pressure from regulators in the area of risk and as mimetic pressure to respond. Some banks, however, also perceive climate change to be a moral issue that demands their contribution to act. In those banks, climate change is regarded as a morally intense issue — this term being defined as a commonly accepted phenomenon with extreme consequences for the future of the society they are embedded in and that they serve. One bank mainly had a scientific view on climate change as a human-induced natural phenomenon. Depending on these first interpretations, the findings suggest that different languages are deployed to further distribute the issue across the organization. In the case of scientific and institutional interpretations, the main language used to sell the issue inside the organization and to justify its incorporation as part of strategy was economic. climate change was translated into financial risk, business opportunity or a potential for cost reduction. Banks that mainly interpreted climate change as a moral imperative to act, communicated this issue differently. They proffered moral arguments that were grounded in the organization’s mission to serve society and based their strategic engagement on this mission. Economic arguments were only deployed at the stage of operationalization of climate change. These different languages influenced the arenas where conversations linked to climate change took place and how widely attention was subsequently distributed across the organization. In the case of a scientific language, climate change was not incorporated into strategy and remained as a topic of general interest, managed by the corporate social responsibility (CSR) function. In the case of an economic language, climate change was strictly contained to a few of already existing governance channels and sometimes even ignored entirely. No further attention to the issue within the companies could be observed. Strategic engagement and change were strictly related to fields where economic impact could be generated at the lowest transaction cost possible. In the instances where moral language was used within governance channels, conversation yielded a different level of engagement. In these cases, governance structures provided a platform for generating a common and more holistic understanding of the phenomenon and its impacts. The attentional engagement with the complexity of the issue grew across the organization and led to creation of new governance communication channels to help address emerging issues. As a result, the strategic integration of climate change was more holistic and comprehensive. The thesis makes theoretical contributions to institutional theory, Attention Based View of the Firm, the issue selling literature and Governance Ethics. Its results also have important implications for practice.

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Author:Anna Dorota Eckardt
Referee:Josef Wieland, Daina Mazutis
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Year of Publication:2020
Date of first Publication:2020/04/16
Publishing Institution:Zeppelin Universität
Granting Institution:Zeppelin Universität
Date of final exam:2020/03/10
Release Date:2020/04/16
Tag:Economics, institutional theory, governance, governance ethics, attention based view, climate change, global warming, banking sector, corporate strategies, corporate responsibility, transition, low-carbon economy, moral imperative
Page Number:XI, 162 Seiten
Licence (German):License LogoUrheberrechtlich geschützt