Special Issue "Change Agency in Sustainability Transitions"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Economic and Business Aspects of Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 November 2020).

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Satu Teerikangas
E-Mail Website1 Website2
Guest Editor
1. Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
2. Faculty of the Built Environment, University College London, London, UK
Interests: sustainability transitions; inter-organizational relationships; change management; mergers and acquisitions; change agency; climate change
Dr. Katariina Koistinen
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
1. Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
2. School of Energy Systems, LUT University of Technology, Lappeenranta, Finland
Interests: sustainability science; sustainability transitions; agency; change agency; circular economy
Dr. Tiina Onkila
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
1. School of Business and Economics, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
2. Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
Interests: sustainability agency; stakeholders; employee relations with CSR; sustainability reporting; qualitative research
Ms. Marileena Mäkelä
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
School of Business and Economics, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
Interests: environmental responsibilities in business; sustainability reporting; sustainability agency; activism; circular economy

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The past 20 years have witnessed a rise in academic interest across the social sciences in exploring the transition dynamics required for societal systems to shift toward greater degrees of sustainability. This body of work is broadly labelled as the sustainability transitions literature (Köhler et al., 2019; Markard et al., 2012; van den Bergh et al., 2011). This is not a uniform body of knowledge, however, nor is it represented by a distinct theoretical framework. The field encompasses a variety of theoretical frameworks spanning the social sciences including but not limited to political science, sociology, sustainability science, psychology, and management (Kemp et al. 1998; Schot and Geels, 2008; Markard et al., 2012; Lozano, 2013).

If sustainability transitions are to succeed, the role of actors, i.e., agency, is critical.

Increasingly, actors are initiating action—be it in the form of individual consumers, communities or social movements. Firms engage in corporate social responsibility programs, whilst most countries are bound to the Paris 2015 Climate Agreement. These ongoing developments in the agentic practice of sustainability have been paralleled with an increase in the study of sustainability agency (Clayton et al., 2015; Garud and Gehman, 2012). Management theorists study firms’ nonmarket strategies (Doh et al., 2012), social entrepreneurship (Pachego et al., 2010), shareholder activism (Goranova and Verstegen, 2014), and employee volunteering (Rodell et al., 2016). Together with sociologists, there is an interest in social movements (de Bakker et al., 2013; Heaney and Rojas, 2014) and institutional entrepreneurship (Pachego et al., 2010). This parallels psychologists’ interest in environmental activists (Gousse-Lessard et al., 2013). Environmental management scholars study firms’ engagement in external collaborative partnerships (Wassmer et al., 2012) and within-firm sustainability change processes (Haugh and Talwar, 2010). In sustainability science, the role of niche (i.e., regime-shaping) and incumbent actors is recognized. Recently, the life course perspective has been introduced to understand the engagement of active sustainability actors (Koistinen et al., 2019). Numerous terms are thus used to denote actors involved in sustainability transitions (Koistinen et al., 2018; Onkila and Sarna, 2018; Teerikangas et al., 2018). Taking a critical perspective, though, present research is scattered across disciplinary and theoretical bases as well as levels of analysis. The aim of this Special Issue is to invigorate and, where possible, to integrate the debate on agency in sustainability transitions. In this light, we encourage submissions:

  • From across the disciplinary bases studying sustainability agency, be it environmental management, sustainability science, corporate social responsibility, management and organization, environmental psychology, sociology, law, political science, economics, or anthropology;
  • Conceptualizing sustainability (change) agency via theoretical development and synthesis;
  • Providing fresh empirical insights, and/or thorough reviews of existing bodies of knowledge, and/or theoretical developments on sustainability (change) agency;
  • From emerging and leading researchers in the study of sustainability agency, representing facets of sustainability agency from across the globe;
  • Studying sustainability agency at individual, group, organizational, and/or institutional levels of analysis.

References

Clayton, S., Devine-Wright, P., Stern, P., Whitmarsh, L., Carrico, A., Steg, L., Swim, J. & Bonnes, M. (2015). Psychological research and global climate change. Nature Climate Change, 5, 640-646.

de Bakker, F., den Hond, F., King, B. & Weber, K. (2013). Social movements, civil society and corporations: Taking stock and looking ahead. Organization Studies, 34(5-6), 573-593.

Doh, J., Lawton, T. & Rajwani, T. (2012). Advancing Nonmarket Strategy Research: Institutional Perspectives in a Changing World. Academy of Management Perspectives, 26, 22-39.

Garud, R. & Gehman, J. (2012). Metatheoretical perspectives on sustainability journeys: Evolutionary, relational and durational. Research Policy, 41, 980-995.

Goranova, M. & Ryan, L. (2014). Shareholder Activism: A Multidisciplinary Review. Journal of Management, 40(5), 1230-1268.

Gousse-Lessard, A-S., Vallerand, R., Carbonneau, N., & Lafreniere, M., (2013). The role of passion in mainstream and radical behaviors: A look at environmental activism. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 35, 18-29.

Heaney, M. & Rojas, F. (2014). Hybrid activism: Social movement mobilization in a multimovement environment, American Journal of Sociology, 119(4), 1047-1103.

Haugh, N. & Talwar, A. (2010). How do corporations embed sustainability across the organization? Academy of Management Learning & Education, 9, 384-396.

Kemp, R., Schot, J. & Hoogma, R. (1998). Regime shifts to sustainability through processes of niche formation: The approach of strategic niche management. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, 10, 175-198

Koistinen, K., Teerikangas, S., Mikkilä, M. & Linnanen, L. (2018). Agent based change in facilitating sustainability transitions – a literature review and call for action, in: Dhiman, S. & Marques, J. (Eds.), Handbook of Engaged Sustainability. Springer.

Koistinen, K., Teerikangas, S., Mikkilä, M. & Linnanen, L. (2019). Active sustainability actors: A life course approach. Sustainable Development, 1–16.

Köhler, J., Geels, F. W., Kern, F., Markard, J., Wieczorek, A., Alkemade, F., … Wells, P. (2019). An agenda for sustainability transitions research: State of the art and future directions. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 31, 1–32.

Lozano, R. (2013). Are companies planning their organizational changes for corporate sustainability? An analysis on three case studies on resistance to change and their strategies to overcome it. Corporate social responsibility and environmental management, 20, 275-295.

Markard, J., Raven, R. & Truffer, B. (2012). Sustainability transitions: An emerging field of research and its prospects. Research Policy, 41.

Onkila, T. & Sarna, B. (2018). Employee - a resource or a stakeholder? A systematic review on employee relations with CSR. Paper presented in: Gronen 2018 conference.

Pachego, D., York, J., Dean, T., & Sarasvathy, S. (2010). The coevolution of institutional entrepreneurship: A tale of two theories. Journal of Management, 36(4), 974-1010.

Rodell, J., Breitsohl, H., Schröder, M. & Keating, D. (2016). Employee Volunteering, A Review and Framework for Future Research. Journal of Management, 42(1), 55-84.

Schot, J. & Geels, F. (2008). Strategic niche management and sustainable innovation journeys: theory, findings, research agenda, and policy. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, 20(5), 537-554.

Teerikangas, S., Onkila, T., Niemi, L., Koistinen, K. & Mäkelä, M. (2018). Agency in sustainability transitions – a 25-year review of research in management journals. Proceedings of the 13th CCRC Conference, Leeds, September 2018.

Van den Bergh, B Truffer, & Kallis, K. (2011). Environmental innovation and societal transitions: Introduction and overview, Environmental innovation and societal transitions, 1(1), 1-23.

Wassmer, U., Paquin, R. & Sharma, S. (2012). The Engagement of Firms in Environmental Collaborations: Existing Contributions and Future Directions. Business & Society, 53(6), 754-786.

Prof. Satu Teerikangas
Dr. Katariina Koistinen
Adjunct Prof. Tiina Onkila
Ms. Marileena Mäkelä
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1900 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • actors
  • agency
  • change agent
  • sustainability agency
  • activism
  • social entrepreneurship
  • social movement
  • grassroots initiative
  • collective action
  • cross-sector partnership
  • csr professional
  • local government

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle
Agency in Circular City Ecosystems—A Rationalities Perspective
Sustainability 2021, 13(5), 2544; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13052544 - 26 Feb 2021
Viewed by 410
Abstract
The concept of agency is increasingly used in the literature on sustainability transitions. In this paper, we add to that discussion by arguing that the concept of rationality opens new avenues to theorizing relational agency in transitions toward a circular economy. To this [...] Read more.
The concept of agency is increasingly used in the literature on sustainability transitions. In this paper, we add to that discussion by arguing that the concept of rationality opens new avenues to theorizing relational agency in transitions toward a circular economy. To this end, we compare rationality conceptions from management (e.g., collaboration and competition) with critical theory perspectives on rationality (e.g., instrumental and communicative rationality). This leads us to develop a typology matrix for describing plural rationalities underpinning relational agency. We illustrate this typology using excerpts from an in-depth case study of an ongoing city-coordinated ecosystem that develops a smart technology-enabled urban area based on the principles of circularity. The first contribution of this interdisciplinary paper is to offer a rational perspective on theorizing the antecedents of relational agency in circular economy transitions, where communicatively rational action enables agency and change. Secondly, our paper contributes to the literature on circular cities through conceptualizing circular transition as simultaneous collaboration and competition. Thirdly, our paper introduces a dyadic perspective on rationality to the literature on coopetition and provides an operating space from which professionals can navigate, depending on the type of coopetitive situation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Change Agency in Sustainability Transitions)
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Open AccessArticle
Fostering Trust and Commitment in Complex Project Networks through Dedicated Investment in Partnership Management
Sustainability 2020, 12(24), 10397; https://doi.org/10.3390/su122410397 - 12 Dec 2020
Viewed by 395
Abstract
An absence of trust among partners can magnify the risk in a complex project by increasing behavioural uncertainty. Partnership trust can effectively substitute for control, reducing variability of outcomes and increasing value-adding strategic collaboration. It is introduced as strategic countermeasures against risks associated [...] Read more.
An absence of trust among partners can magnify the risk in a complex project by increasing behavioural uncertainty. Partnership trust can effectively substitute for control, reducing variability of outcomes and increasing value-adding strategic collaboration. It is introduced as strategic countermeasures against risks associated with project complexity that can only be achieved with commitment from all partners. This research conceptualises partnership trust on four dimensions and investigates the roles of dedicated investment and information sharing in partnership trust–commitment. The complexity of trust management is further highlighted in an exploration of the importance of the exchange relationship environment. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Change Agency in Sustainability Transitions)
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Open AccessArticle
Marginalized Small-Scale Farmers as Actors in Just Circular-Economy Transitions: Exploring Opportunities to Circulate Crop Residue as Raw Material in India
Sustainability 2020, 12(24), 10355; https://doi.org/10.3390/su122410355 - 11 Dec 2020
Viewed by 652
Abstract
Facing substantial sustainability challenges, sustainable transitions to circular systems are increasingly called for. The use of biomass to produce textile fibers is a niche that could contribute to a circular textile system. In this niche, farmers supplying biomass would play a crucial role. [...] Read more.
Facing substantial sustainability challenges, sustainable transitions to circular systems are increasingly called for. The use of biomass to produce textile fibers is a niche that could contribute to a circular textile system. In this niche, farmers supplying biomass would play a crucial role. Through a literature review, we argue in this article that farmers are important actors in this context, but their agency is limited by numerous institutional factors, such as cultivation practices, labor markets, and information systems. These factors together can create an institutional void, which can hamper both the agency of farmers and their ability to participate, as well as the justness of the niche. The void’s strength depends on the institutional interface a farmer is subjected to. Before just transitions to circular systems can occur, marginalized actors’ agency and ability to participate in the niche, in a just way, must be improved, by decreasing the strength of the institutional void. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Change Agency in Sustainability Transitions)
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Open AccessArticle
Public Agency in Changing Industrial Circular Economy Ecosystems: Roles, Modes and Structures
Sustainability 2020, 12(23), 10015; https://doi.org/10.3390/su122310015 - 30 Nov 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 561
Abstract
Value creation in the circular economy (CE) is a result of co-creation. In the industrial context, the theme of collaboration has been studied extensively on a company-to-company basis, but related public agency remains unexplored. Still, circular actions happen in societal contexts where public [...] Read more.
Value creation in the circular economy (CE) is a result of co-creation. In the industrial context, the theme of collaboration has been studied extensively on a company-to-company basis, but related public agency remains unexplored. Still, circular actions happen in societal contexts where public actors and logics are constantly present, enabling the change toward more sustainable actions. For systematic discovery of the topic, the following research questions are considered: (a) What roles can a public actor have in an industrial CE ecosystem? (b) What are the relationship modes a public actor can have? (c) In what kind of actor structures may the roles and modes occur? The study relies on two multiple case studies in the international (Study 1) and Finnish eco-industrial parks (Study 2) contexts. The results are based on qualitative content analysis conducted with both primary and secondary data. As a result, six distinct roles—operator, organizer, financer, supporter, policymaker, and regulator—and two modes—facilitative and dirigiste—for public agency in industrial CE ecosystems were identified. The roles depict the concrete means used by public actors whereas the modes depict the characteristics of these actions. Finally, exemplar organization models for the recognized roles and modes in industrial CE ecosystems were examined. The study provides insights into how public actors can contribute to sustainability transitions among their territories and helps practitioners to better understand the premises for public–private interaction. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Change Agency in Sustainability Transitions)
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Open AccessArticle
Forward-Looking Sustainability Agency for Developing Future Cruise Ships
Sustainability 2020, 12(22), 9644; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12229644 - 19 Nov 2020
Viewed by 447
Abstract
The study addressed sharing of futures insights as a component of sustainability agency for long-term company enhancement in an interorganizational shipbuilders’ network. The purpose was to analyze social structures under “agency” terminology. This joint sustainability project involved a partnership of firms, academia, and [...] Read more.
The study addressed sharing of futures insights as a component of sustainability agency for long-term company enhancement in an interorganizational shipbuilders’ network. The purpose was to analyze social structures under “agency” terminology. This joint sustainability project involved a partnership of firms, academia, and nongovernmental organization (NGO) actors in collaborative cruise ship building. The study adapted a mixed method approach where social network analysis (SNA) was enriched with other contextual data to make network data more applicable and accessible. The results revealed a loose and thin network structure, with relatively high trust among network actors. The network’s social structure was found to facilitate insight sharing. Lead firm actors clearly played a central role in enhancing sustainability, and the researchers, as well as industrial association actors, made a significant contribution to insight sharing and transmission. The findings suggest that the case network would benefit from an open and balanced social structure that incorporates a number of insight brokers to enhance forward-looking sustainability agency (F-L SA). Futures insight sharing enhances agency in the context of joint sustainability actions and improves capacity to respond to systemic challenges. Understanding how proactive agency can be promoted in network settings strengthens strategic aspects of managerial practice and contributes to discourse around sustainability agency. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Change Agency in Sustainability Transitions)
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Open AccessArticle
Towards More Sustainable M&A Deals: Scholars as Change Agents
Sustainability 2020, 12(22), 9623; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12229623 - 18 Nov 2020
Viewed by 525
Abstract
Mergers and acquisitions have significantly contributed to making the world globally connected, providing benefits from globalization through acquisition waves. Along with benefits, acquisitions have also accentuated many sustainability and responsibility issues that are central to both public discourse and global policies. Nonetheless, acquisition [...] Read more.
Mergers and acquisitions have significantly contributed to making the world globally connected, providing benefits from globalization through acquisition waves. Along with benefits, acquisitions have also accentuated many sustainability and responsibility issues that are central to both public discourse and global policies. Nonetheless, acquisition and sustainability research have evolved separately, as scholars have left sustainability and responsibility topics at the margin of the acquisition discourse. This impacts the ability of academics to affect practice through teaching by restricting available information. Scholars are important change agents for making more sustainable deals through their research, teaching, and public engagement. I specifically focus on research as it permeates both teaching and public engagement. I focus my analysis on five intertwined issues—long term orientation, stakeholder lens, linguistic turn, umbrella constructs, and the engaged scholarship research approach—that may conjointly foster such a change. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Change Agency in Sustainability Transitions)
Open AccessArticle
Perceiving Agency in Sustainability Transitions: A Case Study of a Police-Hospital Collaboration
Sustainability 2020, 12(20), 8402; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12208402 - 13 Oct 2020
Viewed by 462
Abstract
This paper explores how agency was used within a police-hospital collaboration to implement a planned change designed to increase the sustainability of a cross-sector collaboration. A longitudinal, qualitative case study involving pre-and-post interviews with 20 police officers and 20 healthcare workers allowed us [...] Read more.
This paper explores how agency was used within a police-hospital collaboration to implement a planned change designed to increase the sustainability of a cross-sector collaboration. A longitudinal, qualitative case study involving pre-and-post interviews with 20 police officers and 20 healthcare workers allowed us to capture multiple perspectives of the planned change over time. Analysis of case study data reveals three major findings: (1) organizations with limited power can have agency in cross-sector collaborations when they are perceived to have legitimacy and urgency; (2) the extent to which the implementation of a planned change influences perceptions of agency depends on the organizational context of the perceiver; and (3) different levels of analysis (i.e., meso versus micro) support different conclusions with respect to the role of agency in the sustainability transition process. More broadly, our study highlights the role of perception when investigating agency within sustainability transitions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Change Agency in Sustainability Transitions)
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Open AccessArticle
Environmental Activism and Big Data: Building Green Social Capital in China
Sustainability 2020, 12(8), 3386; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12083386 - 21 Apr 2020
Viewed by 984
Abstract
The rapid development of information and communication technologies, coupled with the significant progress in the areas of environmental policy and public participation, has led to the advent of environmental big data in China recently. This article applies social capital theory as an analytical [...] Read more.
The rapid development of information and communication technologies, coupled with the significant progress in the areas of environmental policy and public participation, has led to the advent of environmental big data in China recently. This article applies social capital theory as an analytical lens to shed light on how Chinese environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs) adopt big data to promote environmental governance. This study conducts case studies focusing on two ENGOs: The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) and Green Hunan. Combining a qualitative approach with quantitative analysis, this research examines two big data-induced initiatives: The first involves green supply chain management in the IPE, brand-sensitive multinational corporations (MNCs), and Chinese suppliers of the MNCs, while the second involves the mobile data-based Riverwatcher Action Network of Green Hunan and numerous volunteers nationwide. This study found that big data adoption by ENGOs contributes effectively to building green social capital, including social networks and pro-environmental social norms. Green social capital has important implications for governance in terms of fostering coordination and cooperation across the boundaries of the public, private, and voluntary sectors. This study highlighted the finding that empowerment by big data helps Chinese ENGOs play the role of a change agent in sustainability transitions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Change Agency in Sustainability Transitions)
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