I’m a PhD candidate in Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. I study and teach in the areas of business management and entrepreneurship.
I work in three main areas:
- Corporate sustainability,
- Corporate social responsibility, and
- Research methods and knowledge production.
My corporate sustainability research goal is to contribute to building a theory of whether and how business firms can achieve tangible sustainability (see Bjørn & Røpke 2018 for a discussion of the state of the art in research on sustainability assessments of companies, from the perspective of the “strong sustainability” concept).
For a firm to be tangibly sustainable, I argue the firm must satisfy two conditions:
- The firm must identify all natural resource systems from which it sources natural resource inputs and into which it disposes waste, and
- None of those natural resource systems identified in (1) can be declining in ecological health.
Condition (1) connects the firm’s operations to ecological systems through the value chain. Condition (2) connects the firm’s operations to the ecological health of the natural resource systems the firm relies on for natural resource supply and waste disposal. If the ecological health is declining of any natural resource system a firm needs to source resource inputs or dispose of waste, the firm is not tangibly sustainable.
For example, Ikea relies on forest natural resource systems for timber inputs. The ecological health of a forest can be assessed in various ways, one of which is whether the forest grows more biomass per year than is extracted as timber by forest users. If more biomass is extracted than grows back, the forest will shrink over time. If any forest from which Ikea sources timber is shrinking, Ikea would not be a tangibly sustainable firm.
Tangible sustainability is important because human consumption of natural resources is exceeding and running against “planetary boundaries,” suggesting new strategies are needed to operate within these boundaries (Whiteman, Walker, and Perego 2013). Further, achieving society-wide sustainability goals like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals likely involves changes in business models and corporate use of natural resources, especially goals related to climate change (Goal 13), zero hunger (2), terrestrial and marine biodiversity preservation (15, 14), water and sanitation (6), affordable and clean energy (7), and sustainable cities and communities (11).
My research in this area focuses on new strategies firms are developing to directly manage natural resource systems like forests, fisheries, watersheds, oceans, atmospheres, and soil systems (George, Schillebeeckx, and Liak 2015; Tashman and Rivera 2016). These strategies represent a significant shift in corporate attitudes to natural resource systems. Past strategies tended to focus on increasing the efficiency with which firms use natural resources and decreasing waste outputs (corporate greening) or on disclosing certain information about resource use and impacts (sustainability disclosure and transparency). Increasing natural resource scarcity risks are motivating firms to move beyond greening and disclosure strategies to more directly managing the health of natural resource systems producing the resources they need to convert into products and services and processing the waste generated by that conversion. These strategies recognize that changes in the natural and competitive environments for many firms are creating risks and “nature as the new corporate reality” (Winn and Pogutz 2013, p. 222).
Corporate Social Responsibility
My work on corporate social responsibility contributes to an emerging theory of corporate social responsibility focused on stakeholder relationships and firm performance. This work is located at the ongoing convergence of resource-based theory and stakeholder theory (especially instrumental stakeholder theory), as represented by Michael Barnett’s development of stakeholder influence capacity (Barnett 2007).
Research Methods and Knowledge Production
My work in this area focuses on the use of research methods in the production of business administration knowledge. I view knowledge production as a social process and research methods as tools we have developed to counter human tendencies for confirmation bias and decision making errors. In general, I view social science research as the disciplining of human, error-prone judgement with research methods designed specifically to prevent those errors in judgement.
My work on research methods examines fixed-effects regression, a common research method in strategy, and its relationship to strategy theory. I also have papers on replication and journal publication policies in high-status strategy journals. Finally, I am interested in bibliometric analysis as a means of mapping the structure of knowledge and collaboration in strategy and other business research fields.
My work on knowledge production examines how research methods and practices designed to counter our biases can instead become tools used by powerful actors to build careers rather than knowledge. In this area, I build on emerging work in strategy on the credibility crisis, publication bias, and questionable research practices that undermine knowledge production but serve to produce outputs, primarily published journal articles, that increase the prestige of scholars, journals, departments, and universities but do little to increase our collective understanding of how companies work, what drives business performance, and how managers can solve important problems in practice.
I’m a methodological pluralist and support the following initiatives to improve business research and teaching:
- Responsible Research in Business and Management (link)
- San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (link)
- The Center for Open Science (link)
- RESEARCHERS.ONE (link)
- The Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford University (link)
- The EQUATOR (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) Network (link)
- +AllTrials (link)
- Retraction Watch (link)
- Barnett, M. L. (2007). Stakeholder influence capacity and the variability of financial returns to corporate social responsibility. Academy of Management Review, 32(3), 794–816. http://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2007.25275520
- Bjørn, A., & Røpke, I. (2018). What does it really mean to be a strongly sustainable company? – A response to Nikolaou and Tsalis. Journal of Cleaner Production, 198, 208–214. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.06.268
- George, G., Schillebeeckx, S., & Liak, T. L. (2015). (From the Editors) The Management of Natural Resources: An Overview and Research Agenda. Academy of Management Journal, 58(6), 1595–1613.
- Tashman, P., & Rivera, J. (2016). Ecological uncertainty, adaptation, and mitigation in the U.S. ski resort industry: Managing resource dependence and institutional pressures. Strategic Management Journal, 37, 1507–1525. http://doi.org/10.1002/smj
- Whiteman, G., Walker, B., & Perego, P. (2013). Planetary Boundaries: Ecological Foundations for Corporate Sustainability. Journal of Management Studies, 50(2), 307. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6486.2012.01073.x
- Winn, M. I., & Pogutz, S. (2013). Business, Ecosystems, and Biodiversity: New Horizons for Management Research. Organization & Environment, 26(2), 203–229. http://doi.org/10.1177/1086026613490173