Title page for ETD etd-07222009-192032

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Reyers, Michelle
Email michelle.reyers@up.ac.za
URN etd-07222009-192032
Document Title Corporate sustainability consciousness : a climate change perspective
Degree MCom
Department Financial Management
Advisor Name Title
Prof J Blignaut Co-Supervisor
Prof D G Gouws Supervisor
  • corporate sustainability consciousness
  • climate change
  • sustainability values
Date 2009-07-22
Availability unrestricted

Climate change is increasingly acknowledged as one of the greatest threats facing humanity in the 21st century. Given the enormity of the potential impact of global warming, worldwide collective action from all sectors of society appears to be the only appropriate way to address the problem. Within the corporate sector companies appear to be responding to the threat through the introduction of climate change mitigation strategies. Understanding the motivations driving such action could provide insights into how best to engage companies to ensure a sustainable future.

The purpose of this study was to determine the motivation for corporate investment in sustainability projects, with a focus on the voluntary climate change mitigation actions of South African companies. The first phase of the study focused on conceptual research through a literature review which investigated sustainability in a corporate context with a view to understanding motivational drivers. The second phase of the study empirically tested the insights obtained from the literature.

The literature review led to the development of a proposed conceptual framework which illustrated proposed linkages between business and the natural environment. The key motivational drivers supporting these linkages appeared to be legitimacy concerns, the financial business case and moral responsibility.

The empirical phase took the form of an exploratory case study focused on six South African companies across three industries. An interpretive research process was followed using pattern models to analyse the data. To enhance transparency and rigour, qualitative data analysis software was used in the analytical process.

Three key areas were investigated and the main findings were as follows:

  • Overview of sustainability values: The sustainability values of the companies reflected top management commitment to environmental issues and a shift away from a purely technocentric view of the business relationship with the natural environment however, these sentiments were not necessarily translated into actions.
  • Motivations for sustainability initiatives: As suggested by the proposed conceptual framework, company motivations were driven by legitimacy concerns, the financial business case and moral responsibility. In addition, the study revealed a number of sub-drivers which provided additional information regarding motivations.
  • Impact of voluntary action on company value: From a value perspective there was limited disclosure regarding the financial implications of climate change mitigation, however there was general agreement that the financial impact of mitigation action would be either neutral or positive as current strategies focus predominantly on energy and operational efficiencies.

Therefore, while companies appear to be motivated by a range of factors, the key consideration in decisions taken focus predominantly on aspects linked to the current paradigm dominated by financial concerns. There is little evidence of an evolution of sustainability consciousness which could potentially lead to a new sustainable business paradigm. In light of these findings, it would appear that current solutions to climate change issues need to send financial signals to companies to ensure adoption of mitigation actions. Further work is required to understand what will drive a fundamental value shift in the way companies operate to ensure a sustainable future.

Copyright 2009, University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Reyers, M 2009, Corporate sustainability consciousness : a climate change perspective, MCom dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-07222009-192032/ >


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