Sub-theme 42: Markets for Sustainability: Evolving Challenges, Imperfections, and Trade-offs

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Birthe Soppe
University of Innsbruck, Austria
Panikos Georgallis
University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Shon Hiatt
University of Southern California, USA

Call for Papers

In response to fundamental global challenges connected to sustainability issues, including clean drinking water, climate change, biodiversity loss, poverty, and inequality, the development of markets seeking environmental, social, and economic change has received increasing attention from organization scholars. For example, the study of markets such as those for ethical clothes (Schiller-Merkens, 2017), green buildings (York & Lenox, 2014), renewable energy (Georgallis et al., 2019; Grandy & Hiatt, 2020; Sine & Lee, 2009), organic food (Lee et al., 2017), fair trade products (Reinecke et al., 2012), and microfinancing (Battilana & Dorado, 2010; Cobb et al., 2016) has been at the heart of many recent developments in management and organization theory. Variably labelled as social-benefit (Corbett & Montgomery, 2017), moral (Georgallis & Lee, 2020; Hedberg & Lounsbury, 2021), or sustainable markets (Cohen & Winn, 2007), what these domains have in common is that they strive for a more balanced view of markets as solutions for global problems – one centered around the ‘triple bottom line’ (Bansal, 2005) of the economy, society, and environment.
While much research has so far focused on the creation of sustainable markets – taking theoretical perspectives such as social movements, policy making, standard setting, and entrepreneurship – we still know little about the organizational and institutional dynamics and complexities, trade-offs, and challenges that are at play when these markets evolve beyond their nascent stage and potentially move mainstream. This, however, is important to investigate given that markets for sustainability have often been created precisely in opposition to mainstream markets, addressing and challenging problematic elements of conventional markets and their offerings (Carroll & Swaminathan, 2000; Weber et al., 2008; Georgallis & Lee, 2020).
The aim of this sub-theme is to bring together scholars with an interest in markets for sustainability. In line with the EGOS Colloquium overall theme, we are particularly interested in contributions that explore the imperfections of evolving sustainable markets. Sustainable markets, their actors, and the institutions governing them are far from static and perfectly organized. We solicit submissions that explore the impact of changing institutions, including standards, certifications, regulations, and metrics, as well as the inter-organizational collaborative and competitive dynamics that unfold when these markets (attempt to) grow beyond their ‘alternative’ niches.
We see significant potential in intensifying the research dialogue on evolving markets for sustainability and we welcome submissions from a wide range of theoretical perspectives as well as methodological approaches. Research areas and questions that this sub-theme aims to address include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Policy changes and market impact: While new markets have been regularly supported by policy, regulation, and other institutions, these attempts are far from perfect, generating unintended consequences and complexities (Georgallis et al., 2021; Grandy & Hiatt, 2020; Rawhouser et al., 2019). What happens, for example, when the policy incentives that had initially shaped the existence of sustainable markets change or vanish? How do the actors populating moral markets deal with regulatory complexity? What are the idiosyncratic effects and trade-offs that inefficient policies, ambiguous market incentives, and volatile regulatory decision-making entail?

  • Evolving standards, certifications, and metrics: As certifications, standards, and other metrics change within markets, these changes can in turn impact the types of market entrants as well as sustainability outcomes (Eberhart & Armanios, 2020; Lewis & Carlos, 2019; Lee et al., 2017). What are the trade-offs between dampening the morale of ardent constituents and growing the market, and how are they managed? For instance, although sustainable investing has traditionally been a niche area, recent changes in fund metrics (i.e., what qualifies as a socially responsible company) have allowed for greater investor options in these markets. What is the optimum amount of stringency for making an efficient societal impact? Do changes in standards and metrics differentially affect sustainable actions (firm practices, CSR reporting, etc.) of firms from both moral and conventional markets (Carlos & Lewis, 2019)?

  • Market growth and inter-organizational collaborations: The expansion of moral markets is a collective effort that involves heterogenous actors with differing interests, such as entrepreneurs and incumbents, private and public organizations, regulators and NGOs. Coopetition, cross-sector partnerships, and more informal networks of collaboration are often needed in the expansion of these markets (Clarke & Crane, 2018; Doblinger et al. 2019; York et al., 2016). While important, these partnerships are difficult to navigate. What are the novel or hybrid forms of inter-organizational collaboration that emerge in mainstreaming moral markets? What are specific tensions, struggles, and complexities that occur when divergent parties collaborate? How do heterogenous actors negotiate a common ground? How can collaborative action leverage the sustainability impact of growing markets?

  • Competition among sustainable markets: Sustainable or moral markets have usually been studied in isolation, without accounting for competition from offerings by markets or segments with similar goals. How can moral markets co-exist with other moral markets that address identical or complementary goals? What happens when actors disagree on means (e.g., to work from within the dominant market economy or break from established traditions) or ends? To what extent is there ‘competition for sustainability impact’?

  • Intersections with conventional markets: As moral markets grow, conventional markets and established actors seem to respond in kind with the adoption of their own sustainable practices, investments, and standards (Flammer & Luo, 2017; Yan et al. 2019; Gehman & Grimes, 2017). Yet we know little about the organizational dynamics and challenges that unfold at the intersection of newly created markets with a moral component and conventional markets focused on financial returns (Patala et al., 2019). How do incumbents in conventional markets engage in more sustainable practices, and what are the repercussions of these activities on conventional market arenas and their inhabitants? What are the legitimacy trade-offs and moral struggles that the pioneers of markets for social change experience as their domain gets ‘conquered’ by diversifying incumbents? Do conventional markets produce similar sustainable outcomes as moral markets (Eccles et al., 2014)? As conventional markets adopt sustainable practices and standards, is there still a need for niche moral markets?



  • Battilana, J., & Dorado, S. (2010): “Building sustainable hybrid organizations: The case of commercial microfinance organizations.” Academy of Management Journal, 53 (6), 1419–1440.
  • Bansal, P. (2005): “Evolving Sustainability: A Longitudinal Study of Corporate Sustainable Development”. Strategic Management Journal, 26, 197–218.
  • Carlos, W.C., & Lewis, B.W. (2018): “Strategic silence: Withholding certification status as a hypocrisy avoidance tactic.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 63 (1), 130–169.
  • Carroll, G.R., & Swaminathan, A. (2000): “Why the microbrewery movement? Organizational dynamics of resource partitioning in the US brewing industry.” American Journal of Sociology, 106 (3), 715–762.
  • Clarke, A., & Crane, A. (2018): “Cross-sector partnerships for systemic change: Systematized literature review and agenda for further research.” Journal of Business Ethics, 150 (2), 303–313.
  • Cobb, A., Wry, T., & Zhao, E. (2016): “Funding financial inclusion: Institutional logics and the contextual contingency of funding for microfinance organizations.” Academy of Management Journal, 59 (6), 2103–2131.
  • Corbett, J., & Montgomery, A.W. (2017): “Environmental entrepreneurship and interorganizational arrangements: A model of social‐benefit market creation.” Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 11 (4), 422–440.
  • Cohen, B., & Winn, M.I. (2007): “Market imperfections, opportunity and sustainable entrepreneurship.” Journal of Business Venturing, 22 (1), 29–49.
  • Doblinger, C., Soppe, B., & Huber, S. (2019): “Converging Logics: Coopetitive Ties and Innovation in the Early Clean Transportation Industry.” Academy of Management Proceedings, 2019 (1), 15646.
  • Eberhart, R., & Armanios, D. (2020): “Certification Relics: Entrepreneurship amidst Discontinued Certifications.” Organization Science, first published online on May 6, 2021;
  • Eccles, R.G., Ioannou, I., & Serafeim, G. (2014): “The impact of corporate sustainability on organizational processes and performance.” Management Science, 60 (11), 2835–2857.
  • Flammer, C., & Luo, J. (2017): “Corporate social responsibility as an employee governance tool: Evidence from a quasi‐experiment.” Strategic Management Journal, 38 (2), 163–183.
  • Gehman, J., & Grimes, M. (2017): “Hidden badge of honor: how contextual distinctiveness affects category promotion among certified B corporations.” Academy of Management Journal, 60 (6), 2294–2320.
  • Georgallis, P., Dowell, G., & Durand, R. (2019): “Shine on me: Industry Coherence and Policy Support for Emerging Industries.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 64 (3), 503–541.
  • Georgallis, P., & Lee, B. (2020): “Toward a theory of entry in moral markets: The role of social movements and organizational identity.” Strategic Organization, 18 (1), 50–74.
  • Georgallis, P., Albino-Pimentel, J., & Kondratenko, N. (2021): “Jurisdiction shopping and foreign location choice: The role of market and nonmarket experience in the European solar energy industry.” Journal of International Business Studies, 52, 853–877.
  • Grandy, J.B., & Hiatt, S.R. (2020): “State Agency Discretion and Entrepreneurship in Regulated Markets.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 65 (4), 1092–1131.
  • Hedberg, L., & Lounsbury, M. (2021): “Not Just Small Potatoes: Cultural Entrepreneurship in the Moralizing of Markets.” Organization Science, 32 (2), 433–454.
  • Lee, B.H., Hiatt, S.R., & Lounsbury, M. (2017): “Market mediators and the trade-offs of legitimacy-seeking behaviors in a nascent category.” Organization Science, 28 (3), 447–470.
  • Lewis, B.W., & Carlos, W.C. (2019): “The risk of being ranked: Investor response to marginal inclusion on the 100 best corporate citizens list.” Strategic Management Journal, 1–24.
  • Patala, S., Korpivaara, I., Jalkala, A., Kuitunen, A., & Soppe, B. (2019): “Legitimacy under institutional change: How incumbents appropriate clean rhetoric for dirty technologies.” Organization Studies, 40 (3), 395–419.
  • Rawhouser, H., Cummings, M.E., & Hiatt, S.R. (2019): “Does a Common Mechanism Engender Common Results? Sustainable Development Trade-Offs in the Global Carbon Offset Market.” Academy of Management Discoveries, 5 (4), 514–529.
  • Reinecke, J., Manning, S., & von Hagen, O. (2012): “The emergence of a standards market: Multiplicity of sustainability standards in the global coffee industry.” Organization Studies, 33 (5–6), 791–814.
  • Schiller-Merkens, S. (2017): “Will Green Remain the New Black? Dynamics in the Self-Categorization of Ethical Fashion Designers.” Historical Social Research, 42 (1), 211–237.
  • Sine, W.D., & Lee, B.H. (2009): “Tilting at windmills? The environmental movement and the emergence of the U.S. wind energy sector.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 54 (1), 123–155.
  • Weber, K., Heinze, K.L., & DeSoucey, M. (2008): “Forage for thought: Mobilizing codes in the movement for grass-fed meat and dairy products.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 53 (3), 529–567.
  • Yan, S., Ferraro, F., & Almandoz, J. (2019): “The rise of socially responsible investment funds: The paradoxical role of the financial logic.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 64 (2), 466–501.
  • York, J G., & Lenox, M.J. (2014): “Exploring the sociocultural determinants of de novo versus de alio entry in emerging industries.” Strategic Management Journal, 35( 13), 1930–1951.
  • York, J.G., Hargrave, T.J., & Pacheco, D.F. (2016): “Converging winds: Logic hybridization in the Colorado wind energy field.” Academy of Management Journal, 59 (2), 579–610.
Birthe Soppe is an Associate Professor of Organization Studies at the University of Innsbruck, Austria; she is also affiliated with the University of Oslo, Norway. Her research focuses on how established firms change in the wake of sustainability pressures, collaboration dynamics between unequal partners, and meaning shifts and legitimacy dynamics under conditions of institutional change. Birthe’s research has been published in outlets such as ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Research Policy’, ‘Research in the Sociology of Organizations’, and ‘Journal of Small Business Management’.
Panikos Georgallis is an Assistant Professor of Strategy at the Amsterdam Business School, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His teaching and research are in the areas of strategy, organization theory, and sustainability. Panikos’ work has been published in leading journals such as ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Organization Science’, and ‘Journal of International Business Studies’. His current research projects include interactions between civil society and business, the evolution of moral markets, and firms’ responses to climate change.
Shon Hiatt is an Associate Professor at Marshall School of Business and Faculty Affiliate of the Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, University of Southern California, USA. Shon researches entrepreneurship, strategy, regulatory affairs, and business sustainability in domestic and international contexts.
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