License to Critique: A Communication Perspective on Sustainability Standards

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Sustainability standards are important governance tools for addressing social and environmental challenges. Yet, such tools are often criticized for being either too open-ended or too restrictive, thereby failing to contribute significantly to the development of sustainable practices. Both dimensions of the critique, however, miss the point. While all standards in principle combine elements of openness and closure, both of which are necessary to keep the sustainability agenda relevant and adaptive, sustainability standards often operate in contexts that favor closure. In this article, we draw on a research tradition that views communication as constitutive of organization to emphasize the significance of communicative mechanisms that stimulate organizational openness in the application of standards. With the notion of “license to critique,” we present a managerial philosophy designed to involve managers and employees, mobilize and develop their knowledge about sustainability and bring it forward for the benefit of both the organization and the environment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBusiness Ethics Quarterly
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)239-262
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017


  • Sustainability standards
  • Communication as constitutive of organization
  • Discursive closure
  • Discursive opening
  • License to critique

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