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Paper: Big brand sustainability

This article argues that actions by big business to improve their sustainability while useful, will not be sufficient since they are fundamentally part of a growth based economic model.

A paragraph from the conclusions:

“Big brand governance …can – and is – improving the quality of some products and some processes. At the same time, however, brand MNCs are an engine of a world economy that within the current institutional paradigm must keep growing to function. …. With the rise of big brand sustainability, private authority is increasing in importance within the transnational governance system. This is increasing the speed and scale of governance capacity. But fundamentally it is only changing the rules of the game (i.e., how products are produced), not the game itself (i.e., the economic model). Such a conclusion demonstrates the ongoing, if not increasingly greater, need for a shared governance approach – including stronger state regulations, sustained social pressure, more responsible individual consumerism, and tougher international legal constraints on all multinational corporations – to go beyond the business gains of big brand sustainability to achieve more transformational environmental governance progress.”



This article introduces and evaluates the implications for global environmental change of the rising power and authority of big brand companies as global environmental governors. Contributing to the private governance literature and, in particular, addressing the gap in this research with respect to the political implications of individual firm ‘buyer power’, the article provides evidence and analysis of how big brand sustainability is altering the power relations within global supply chains, and the governance prospects and limits of this trend. The authors argue that recent brand company efforts through their global supply chains, while still a long way off from their goals, are achieving environmental gains in product design and production. Yet, these advances are also fundamentally limited. Total environmental impacts of consumption are increasing as brand companies leverage corporate sustainability for competitive advantage, business growth, and increased sales. Big brand sustainability, while important, will not on its own resolve the problems of global environmental change. In conclusion, the article highlights the importance of a co-regulatory governance approach that includes stronger state regulations, sustained advocacy, more responsible individual consumerism, and tougher international legal constraints to go beyond the business gains from big brand sustainability to achieve more transformational, ‘absolute’ global environmental progress.



Dauvergne P and Lister J (2012).  Big brand sustainability: Governance prospects and environmental limits, Global Environmental Change, 22, 1, 36-45

The paper (subscription access only) is available here.

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