The Legitimacy of Sustainability Standards: A Paradox Perspective

Patrick Haack, Andreas Rasche

Publikation: KonferencebidragPaperForskningpeer review


Sustainability standards have proliferated widely in recent years but their legitimacy remains con tested. This paper suggests that sustainability standards need to cope with an important but unex plored paradox to gain legitimacy. While standard setters create low entry barriers and requirements for adopters so that standards can diffuse quickly and achieve a status of cognitive legitimacy, stand ards also need to ensure that adopters create high levels of impact, thereby acquiring moral legiti macy. While the need for diffusion and impact occur at the same time, they cannot be achieved sim ultaneously. We unpack this paradox and show that its salience for standard setters differs depending on (a) the growth trajectory of a standard and (b) the perceived intensity of the demands for diffusion and impact. We outline five response strategies that standard setters can use to tackle the diffusion impact paradox and illustrate our theoretical considerations through a detailed case study of the UN Global Compact. Our paper advances scholarly understandings on how sustainability standards gain legitimacy and sheds light on the complex and inherently paradoxical nature of legitimacy. We derive implications for the literatures on sustainability standards, legitimacy, and paradox management.
Antal sider44
StatusUdgivet - 2021
Begivenhed37th EGOS Colloquium: Organizing for an Inclusive Society: Meanings, Motivations, and Mechanisms - Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, WWW
Varighed: 8 jul. 202110 jul. 2021
Konferencens nummer: 37


Konference37th EGOS Colloquium
LokationVrije Universiteit


  • Legitimacy
  • Sustainability standards
  • Paradox
  • Diffusion
  • Impact