The Governance of Corporate Responses to Climate Change: An International Comparison

In response to pressures from governments, investors, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders, many large corporations have adopted a variety of carbon and energy management practices, taken action to reduce their emissions and set targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Using the case of international retailers, this article examines whether, and under what conditions, non-state actors might be capable of assuming the governance roles that have historically been played by national governments.

This article concludes that external governance pressures can, if they are aligned, robust and of sufficient duration, have a significant influence on internal governance processes and on corporate strategies and actions. However, the specific actions that are taken by companies – in particular those that require significant capital investments – are constrained by the ‘business case’. That is, companies will generally only invest capital in situations when there is a clear financial case (i.e. where the benefits outweigh the costs, when the rate of return meets or exceeds company targets) for action.

That is, the extent to which external governance pressures can force companies to take action, in particular challenging or transformative actions that go beyond the boundaries of the business case, is not at all clear. This is particularly the case if the business case weakens, or if the opportunities for incremental change are exhausted. In that context, the power of non-state actors to force them to consider radical changes in their business processes and their use of energy therefore seems to be very limited.

Business Strategy and the Environment, 26, pp.413-425, Oct 2016