Organizational Identity and Integration of Sustainable Development: A Micro-level Study of Ethical Closure and Silence

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This paper explores the puzzle of how the sustainable development agenda is not effectively advanced by ‘sustainability professionals’ in organizations despite their organizations’ and their own expressed support to sustainable development. This is a theoretically under-explored phenomenon of importance for practice to understand the better micro-level processes for success or failure for business integration across all seventeen Sustainable Development Goals. Researchers and practitioners have enthusiastically argued for the importance of discussion and critical dialogue to stimulate innovative integration of the 2030 aspirations into business strategies that challenge traditional business practices. Prior research has also provided valuable insights showing strong member support to organizations with a sustainability identity. However, our findings reveal how member support does not always serve to advance the sustainability agenda. Instead, our empirical study across 94 interviews with sustainability professionals demonstrate how member support ironically may silence rather than advance debate on sustainable development. We refer to this a ethical closure. We identify three categories of member responses to workplace sustainability identity claims: quiet devotion, silent tolerance and muted detachment. We discuss the theoretical and managerial implications for sustainability development when organizational members keep silent rather than voice their opinions about the sustainability agenda.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2018
Number of pages48
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventEGOS: Surprise in and Around Organizations: Journeys to the Unexpected - Estonian Business School/Tallinn University, Tallinn, Estonia
Duration: 5 Jul 20187 Jul 2018
Conference number: 34


LocationEstonian Business School/Tallinn University
Internet address


  • Sustainability
  • Identity claims
  • Public declarations
  • Ethical closure
  • Management

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