In the mid-2000s, China’s environmental crisis had become a major social and political ‘hot spot’. In the interest of civic conciliation, national stability, and performance legitimacy, the Chinese government responded by introducing the ‘Scientific Approach to Development’ as part of the 11th Five-Year Plan in 2005. It signaled a significant policy shift, in which the government reoriented China’s national goals away from ‘Growth First’ policies and toward a model of sustainable development. In this study, we explore how Chinese business leaders reacted to this significant policy change. Specifically, our aim is three-fold: (1) to identify how senior managers and CxOs (executives or owners of enterprises, including CEOs, CFOs, CSOs) of Chinese firms responded to the explicit and systemic introduction of environmental management in the 11th Five-Year Plan; (2) examine motivations and justifications associated with their responses; (3) and explore contexts in which different motivations connected to organizational change and its management. In our study, we examine the perspectives of 72 senior managers and CxOs in China. We find that the integration of environmental management and corporate responsibility policies was predominately driven by national, international, and market contexts, and motivated by instrumental, relational, and moral considerations. We identify complex strategies and implementation plans that transformed government directives into multiple and overlapping business strategies. The main contribution of our study is the identification of specific sets of strategies employed by firms to concurrently comply with government directives and seek profits. Broadly speaking, these environmental management strategies are divided into compliance, a pursuit of competitive advantage, and a structural integration of environmental management.
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