Special Issue "Change Agency in Sustainability Transitions"

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

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 1 June 2020.

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Satu Teerikangas
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
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
Adjunct Prof. Tiina Onkila
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: environmental responsibilities in business; stakeholder management; rhetorics, environmental values and cultures; sustainability reporting; circular economy
Ms. Marileena Mäkelä
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.


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

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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