Sustainability Insurgency: A Revolutionary Approach to CSR Management?”

Synne Vethe Burud & Lina Elisabeth Rydland

Student thesis: Master thesis


Executive Summary: In recent decades CSR – corporate social responsibility – has become a well-­‐established management practice. Yet, conventional CSR approaches, which have become a mainstream management model in multinational corporations, have several important shortcomings that are considered to be rooted in the organization of CSR as an isolated centralized corporate function. The primary objective of this thesis is to investigate whether the very recently proposed concept of sustainability insurgency can overcome the identified shortcomings. When the CSR function is centralized and organized within a single department, it becomes an isolated task that is weakly integrated into individual departments of the organization as well as corporate culture and overall strategic direction. Within conventional CSR management it is virtually impossible to distinguish the link between financial investments in CSR and returns and benefits generated. Corporate CSR spending can therefore be considered as a breach of the fiduciary responsibilities companies owe to shareholders, rooted in agency theory. Traditionally, CSR has been practiced as an integral part of many corporations’ brand and reputation management. As sourcing production from developing countries has become a strategic managerial practice for large corporations, the centralization of the CSR function limits the top management’s oversight of corporate activities further down the global value chain network where the risk of negative environmental and social events may be present to varying degrees. The novel and innovative approach to CSR offered by sustainability insurgency has the potential to overcome some of the identified limitations of conventional CSR. Sustainability insurgency entails a decentralization of the CSR function that integrates CSR into the overall corporate strategy, corporate culture and global value chain management, and also identifies the social intelligence of employees as a vital strategic asset. In order to present a clear and comprehensive assessment of the issues with conventional CSR and also demonstrate how sustainability insurgency could address identified shortcomings the following research question was used: “Can sustainability insurgency help reconceptualize the management of CSR in Danish and Norwegian companies? In answering the research question the authors of this thesis first present a case concerning issues related to child labor, hazardous working conditions, and industrial pollution in the Telenor Group’s value chain in Bangladesh as an illustrative representation of the problem. Danish and Norwegian CSR experts and graduates with master degrees and graduate students from Danish and Norwegian Business Schools were interviewed to gather their views. The CSR experts provided valuable insights on conventional CSR management and the students provided us with an understanding of the views of the younger generation of business professionals, i.e. the Millennial generation, on CSR practices. Through applying secondary and empirical data, the authors concluded that sustainability insurgency represents a helpful reconceptualization of CSR management in Danish and Norwegian corporate contexts. Six main findings explain how sustainability insurgency overcomes the issues inherent to conventional CSR management approaches and show how sustainability insurgency can lead to improvements in CSR management related to: transparency and control, employee social intelligence, supplier CSR compliance, top management team engagement, organizational integration of CSR and human capital productivity. The conclusion to this study is that sustainability insurgency offers a useful reconceptualization of conventional CSR in the six areas noted above. It appears to provide a novel approach that can transform CSR management positively. Some specific areas for future research attention related to this topic are also provided.

EducationsMSc in International Marketing and Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2014
Number of pages172