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‘Activists in a Suit’: Paradoxes and Metaphors in Sustainability Managers’ Identity Work

Luca Carollo () and Marco Guerci ()
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Luca Carollo: Università degli Studi di Milano
Marco Guerci: Università degli Studi di Milano

Journal of Business Ethics, 2018, vol. 148, issue 2, 249-268

Abstract: Abstract Both sustainability and identity are said to be paradoxical issues in organizations. In this study we look at the paradoxes of corporate sustainability at the individual level by studying the identity work of those managers who hold sustainability-dedicated roles in organizations. Analysing 26 interviews with sustainability managers, we identify three main tensions affecting their identity construction process: the business versus values oriented, the organizational insider versus outsider and the short-term versus long-term focused identity work tensions. When dealing with these tensions, some interviewees express a paradoxical perspective in attempting to accept and maintain the two poles of each of them simultaneously. It emerges in particular that metaphorical reasoning can be used by sustainability managers in varied ways to cope with the tensions of identity work. We read these findings in light of the existing literature on the relation between paradoxes and identity work, highlighting and discussing their implications for both research and practice.

Keywords: Corporate sustainability; Sustainability manager; Identity work; Metaphor; Paradox (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:148:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s10551-017-3582-7