Is Sustainability Sustainable?
Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainable Business,
and Management Fashion
THEODORE E. ZORN EVA COLLINS
While we share the enthusiasm of many of our fellow authors in this volume for corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainable business, we are simultaneously unnerved when we see some of the corporations responsible for the most grievous acts against humanity and the environment flying the flag of sustainability (e.g., Palazzo & Richter, 2005). The rapidly filling bandwagon leads us to question whether CSR and sustainable business are simply the “thing to do” for businesses or whether, as we hope, there is a sincere and “sustainable” trend toward businesses acting with a moral consciousness.
The focus of this chapter is to examine the extent to which the current interest in CSR and sustainable business is the latest in a long line of management fads and fashions (e.g., Abrahamson, 1996; Jackson, 2001), or whether these ideas are instead more stable and permanent elements of doing business. The question of whether CSR and sustainable business fit the criteria for management fashions is important far beyond simply applying a label to them. At issue is whether practices that have the potential to create more effective organizations and, more important, positive contributions to societies are subject to the “here today, gone tomorrow” mentality that has been experienced with other well-known business practices such as management by objectives (MBO), quality circles, total quality management (TQM), and business process reengineering (BPR) or, alternatively, whether these practices can be permanently woven into the fabric of organizational and societal life.
Thus, this chapter builds on literature addressing the diffusion of management practices and the social construction of management knowledge. This literature has been concerned with deconstructing management thought and practice such that the modernist view of management as a more or less linear progression of increasingly sophisticated knowledge of organizational reality and increasingly effective ways to manipulate and control that reality is recast as discursive conceptions that are constructed and continually renegotiated to produce meaningful accounts of organizational practice (Parker, 1992). As du Gay, Salaman, and Rees (1996) argued, “The dispositions, actions and attributes that constitute 'management' have no natural form, and for this reason must be approached as a series of historically specific assemblages” (p. 264). Thus, management practices such as CSR/sustainable business are seen as normative belief structures, the diffusion of which are influenced by social and political pressures rather than simply the logical or march of progress or “rational” advance of knowledge (e.g., Fiss & Zajac, 2004).
As the editors suggest in the overview to this volume, both CSR and sustainable business are part of a cluster of terms that includes sustainable development, socially responsible business, green