Exploring the meaning of MNEs discursive dynamics on strategy: How do sustainability discourses influence sustainability strategy making by Rabobank?

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Sustainability discourse is playing an increasingly vital role in business over the last years, and firms have to adapt to this by incorporating sustainability within their strategies and consider the way sustainability discourses are used during this strategy-making. It is well-established that differences exist in the knowledge people have about sustainability and the way they talk about it, referring to discursive dynamics. This study aims to fill the knowledge gap between sustainability discourse and sustainability strategy making by exploring how sustainability discourses and their relations with each other can influence sustainability strategy-making discussions. Specifically, this study investigates whether different sustainability discourses have an impact on discussions about sustainability strategy making and the participants therein. In this context, discourses are regarded as dynamic constructs and discursive dynamics is defined as the extent to which people communicate new information, thereby influencing the conversation and the moods of the conversational participants. To obtain results, semi-structured online interviews with fifteen organizational actors working at Rabobank, a Dutch international bank, were conducted. Respondents were approached based on their occupation and the fact that they participate in the sustainability strategy-making process. The results indicated seven sustainability discourses existing within the organization, of which five seem to be in conflict with each other. Three conflicts between sustainability discourses were found, namely central-practical, practical-economic, and conservative-progressive. These conflicts seem to negatively affect the discussions about sustainability strategy making and the participating people. These results suggest that differences in sustainability discourses exist in the case organization and that they could be in conflict with each other, thereby exerting a negative influence on the sustainability strategy-making process. This implies that the concept of discursive dynamics should be considered when designing sustainability strategies.
Faculteit der Managementwetenschappen