Corporate Sustainability as Competitive Advantage: Arguments for Implementing Sustainability into the Strategy of European Airlines

Maike Lena Röder

Student thesis: Master thesis


Despite the negative effect that the airline industry has on the natural environment, the airline industry is constantly growing. Various initiatives have been taken and are underway in trying to minimize the negative effects, in the industry and by governments. In this thesis, corporate sustainability (CS) is understood broadly including economic, environmental and social aspects. The core question dealt with in this thesis is: Is corporate sustainability a competitive strategy in the European airline-industry, and what are the arguments to further integrate corporate sustainability into the strategies of airlines? Hence, the thesis aims to address the meaning of emphasizing the social dimension of corporate sustainability and outlines arguments to implement CS as a competitive strategy in the airline industry. METHODOLOGY Large and globalized firms with a direct impact on the environment usually have high developed CS strategies. I selected the four most important airlines in Europe to examine their commitment level towards Corporate Sustainability with the means of a content analysis of reported social initiatives. Responsibilities from the governance, towards employees and towards society are grounds for categorizing each airline´s commitment levels (Beginning, Sufficient, Satisfying, Sophisticated/Outstanding). After considering social issues of airlines in the press, I needed to adjust my CS scores. Overall, the thesis provides a holistic picture of the phenomenon CS in an interesting and practical way that fosters further engagement and improvement of CS strategies. FINDINGS Although the social dimension of CS theoretically bears the potential of building long term competitive advantage, practically it is still given less attention than issues of the environmental and economic dimension. Corporate reports can be a valuable resource for generating an overview of sustainable behaviors of firms. However, different reporting frameworks make it hard to evaluate and compare sustainability strategies. Sustainability strategies vary significantly across the airlines. As no airline has reached an outstanding commitment level towards CS, the airlines do not understand to achieve competitive advantage through creating value for themselves and for the society yet.

EducationsCand.merc.smc Strategic Market Creation, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2017
Number of pages106
SupervisorsKarin Tollin