Sub-theme 30: Interorganizational Relationships for a Sustainable Future

Satu Teerikangas
University of Turku, Finland
Mélanie Hassett
University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
Ioannis Thanos
Athens University of Economics and Business, Greece

Call for Papers

There is increasing evidence that the world is heading toward an environmental crisis. Human perturbations have destabilized Earth-system processes at planetary scale (Rockström et al., 2009; Steffen et al., 2015). Growing population adds demand for natural resources globally: by 2030, water and food demand are to increase by over 30% (IWMI, 2007; FAO, 2012), energy demand by 45% (IEA, 2008). Instead of climate change, the discourse has shifted to climate collapse (IPCC, 2018). All the while, technological change is speeding up the introduction of artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning. At the level of nation states, protectionism appears to be making a re-entry with trade wars and exits from trade blocs under negotiation. The question is: what kind of a future are we building? Put more bluntly, is there a future for humankind? Overall, what does this imply for organizations (Etzion, 2007)?
There is ongoing debate about the definition of sustainability (UNGSP, 2012; Steffen et al., 2015b) and the means of evaluating an individual’s and organization’s degree of sustainability (Dyllick & Muff, 2015; Boons & Lüdeke-Freund, 2013; Geels, 2011). According to Labuschagne, Brent and Erck (2005), “business sustainability entails the incorporation of the objectives of sustainable development, namely social equity, economic efficiency and environmental performance, into a company’s operational practices”. Strong sustainability refers to adapting to the demands of the Earth, respecting the resilience of ecosystems by decreasing consumption, rather than adjusting natural resources to suit human needs (Hediger, 1999; Williams & Millington, 2004).
In the corporate responsibility literature, the path toward strong sustainability is seen as a process from business-as-usual, through refined shareholder management and triple bottom line management, toward truly sustainable business (Dyllick & Muff, 2015). Elkington (2007) argues that effective, long-term partnerships are crucial for companies in transitioning toward sustainability. These partnerships can be between the public and private sectors, between companies, or between companies and groups campaigning for a broad range of triple bottom line objectives (Elkington, 2007: 37), such as local communities, social movements, social enterprises, or non-governmental organizations.
Organizations can pursue sustainability via various types of equity and non-equity partnerships. Classic knowledge has it that firms and NGOs form strategic alliances, joint ventures, outsourcing or franchising arrangements, merge or acquire, enter networks to obtain resources, capabilities, knowledge or skills to survive in an increasingly competitive market (Cartwright et al. 2012; Parmegiani & Rivera-Santos, 2011; Barringer & Harrison, 2000; Ring & van de Ven, 1994; Borys & Jemison, 1989). In many inter-firm relationships competitive strategy is paralleled with cooperative strategy, sometimes simultaneously (Gnyawali & Madhavan, 2001; Gnyawali et al., 2016).
In the realm of inter-organizational relationships, the bulk of extant research has focused on traditional competitive markets, in so doing largely neglecting their role in building firms’ non-market activities (Ahammad et al., 2017). It is unclear what are the dynamics in partnerships and M&As enabling sustainable value creation toward the involved organizations and their stakeholders, including the society at large. What is more, previous research on interorganizational relations focuses on the partnering activity of multinational companies (Child et al., 2001; Lambell et al., 2008). Recently, a rise in anti-globalisation movement has put multinational companies in the limelight in terms of their ethical behaviour and sustainability stance. However, the role of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and non-profit organizations (NGOs) and their interorganizational activity remains poorly understood and under-researched (Lambell et al., 2008).
This sub-theme appreciates forms and dynamics of interorganizational relationships and cross-sector partnerships (Selsky & Parker, 2005) between different organization types (van Wijk et al., 2013; Delbridge & Edwards, 2008) in the building of sustainable futures. Sustainable futures refer to economic, environmental and social sustainability to the partnering organizations and their stakeholders. An interesting consideration is, whether nature, i.e. the environment, can be considered a stakeholder (Hart & Dowell, 2007; Hart, 1995).
We invite papers that explore

  1. the role of interorganizational relationships in promoting and enabling organizational, interorganizational, and societal sustainability, and

  2. how interorganizational relationships make organizations more resilient to uncertainty and unexpected changes in the environment.

We look forward to receiving papers focused on, but not limited to the following topics:

  • Motivations for building interorganizational relationships (contractual partnerships, strategic alliances, joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions) in the pursuit of sustainable futures

  • Forms and dynamics of network creation, partnering (contractual partnerships, strategic alliances, joint ventures), merging and acquiring in the pursuit of sustainable futures

  • Differences between small and medium-sized organizations and multinational companies as they pursue sustainability-related partnerships

  • Differences between public, private and third-sector organizations as they pursue sustainability-related partnerships

  • Interorganizational partnerships in the solving of grand challenges and today’s wicked global problems, including but not limited to climate change, circular economy, water shortage, energy, etc.

  • Performance management and performance effects of partnering (contractual partnerships, strategic alliances, joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions) in the pursuit of sustainable futures

  • Methods to study interorganizational relationships in the pursuit of sustainable futures

  • The role of strategic alliances and M&As in causing social, economic and environmental disruption



  • Barringer, B.R., & Harrison, J.S. (2000): “Walking a Tightrope: Creating Value Through Interorganizational Relationships.” Journal of Management, 26 (3), 367–403.
  • Boons, F., & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2013): “Business Models for Sustainable Innovation: State of the Art and Steps Towards a Research Agenda.” Journal of Cleaner Production, 45, 9–19.
  • Cartwright, S., Teerikangas, S., Rouzies, A., & Wilson-Evered, E. (2012): “Methods in M&A: A look at the past, and the future, to forge a path forward.” Scandinavian Journal of Management, 28 (2), 95–106.
  • Chazan, G. (2018): “Backlash grows over Chinese deals for Germany’s corporate jewels.” Financial Times, March 13, 2018;
  • Delbridge, R., & Edwards, T. (2008): “Challenging conventions: Roles and processes during non- isomorphic institutional change.” Human Relations, 61 (3), 299–325.
  • Dyllick, T., & Muff, K. (2016): “Clarifying the Meaning of Sustainable Business. Introducing a Typology From Business-as-Usual to True Business Sustainability.” Organization & Environment, 29 (2), 156–174.
  • Elkington, J. (1998): “Accounting for the triple bottom line.” Measuring Business Excellence, 2 (3), 18–22.
  • Elkington, J. (2007): “Partnerships from cannibals with forks: The triple bottom line of 21st‐century business.” Environmental Quality Management, 8 (1), 37–51.
  • FAO (2012): The State of Food and Agriculture. Investing in agriculture for a better future. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations;
  • Geels, F.W. (2011): “The multi-level perspective on sustainability transitions: Responses to seven criticisms.” Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 1 (1), 24–40.
  • Gnyawali, D.R., & Madhavan, R. (2001): “Cooperative networks and competitive dynamics: a structural embeddedness perspective.” Academy of Management Review, 26 (3), 432–445.
  • Gnyawali, D.R., Madhavan, R., He, J., & Bengtsson, M. (2016): “The competition–cooperation paradox in inter-firm relationships: A conceptual framework.” Industrial Marketing Management, 53, 7–18.
  • Hart, S.L. (1995): “A natural-resource-based view of the firm.” Academy of Management Review, 20 (4), 986–1014.
  • IAE (2008): World Energy Outlook 2008. Paris: International Energy Agency (OECD/IAE);
  • IWMI (2007): Water for Food, Water for Life. A Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture. London: Earthscan & International Water Management Institute;
  • IPCC (2018): Global Warming of 1.5 °C. IPCC special report. Geneva: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change;
  • Labuschagnea, C., Brent, A.C., & van Erck, R.P.G. (2005): “Assessing the sustainability performances of industries.” Journal of Cleaner Production, 13 (4), 373–385.
  • Lambell, R., Ramia, G., Nyland, C., & Michelotti, M. (2008): “NGOs and IB research: Progress, prospects and problems.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 10 (1), 75–92.
  • Pathak, S., Laplume, A., & Xavier-Oliveira, E. (2015): “Inbound foreign direct investment and domestic entrepreneurial activity.” Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, 27 (5–6), 334–356.
  • Ring, P.S., & van de Ven, A.H. (1994): “Developmental Processes of Cooperative Interorganizational Relationships.” Academy of Management Review, 19 (1), 90–118.
  • Rockstrom, J., Steffen, W., et al. (2009): “Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity.” Ecology and Society, 14 (2), 32;
  • Selsky, J., & Parker, B. (2005): “Cross-sector partnerships to address social issues: Challenges to theory and practice.” Journal of Management, 31 (6), 849–873.
  • Steffen, W., Richardson, K., et al. (2015): “Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet.” Science, 347 (6223), 736 ff.;
  • United Nations Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (2012): Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing. New York: United Nations;
  • van Wijk, J., Stam, W., Elfring, T., Zietsma, C., & den Hond, F. (2013): “Activists and Incumbents Structuring Change: The Interplay of Agency, Culture, and Networks in Field Evolution.” Academy of Management Journal, 56 (2), 358–386.
Satu Teerikangas is Professor and Department Head of Management & Organization at the School of Economics, University of Turku, Finland. She is also Honorary Professor in Management at the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, University College London, United Kingdom. Her work on socio-cultural dynamics in M&As has been published in leading academic journals. She is also a co-editor of the “Handbook of Mergers and Acquisitions” (2012) by Oxford University Press. Satu works regularly with Nordic businesses on post-merger integration. Her current research centres on sustainability.
Mélanie Hassett is a Lecturer in International Business at Sheffield University Management School, United Kingdom. She is also a Senior Fellow at Turku School of Economics, University of Turku, Finland. Her research focuses on the socio-cultural dynamics in cross-border M&A and SME internationalisation. Mélanie’s work has been published in leading journals and ‘Advances in Mergers and Acquisitions’. She has also co-edited the “Handbook of Longitudinal Research Methods in Organisation and Business Studies” (2013) by Edward Elgar.
Ioannis Thanos is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration at the Athens University of Economics and Business in Greece. Previously, he was Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management at Lancaster University, United Kingdom. Ioannis is Associate Editor of the ‘European Management Journal’.