Ever since sustainability was propagated by Brundtland
(1987) cited in Sneddon et al. (2006), governments and business communities
worldwide have struggled with working out modalities for policy implementation
in this regard (Barkemeyer, et al., 2014). In some cases, there have been
arguments against the concept of sustainability, due to apprehensions that
implementing sustainable strategies will stifle businesses. Though researchers
like Kolk (2016) believe that the negative opinion about sustainability is
based on a parochial view of it. They argue that looking at sustainability with
a broader mind-set will help appreciate its importance and set realistic sustainable
development goals; such as “what should be developed and what is to be
sustained; for how long; and for the benefit of whom”. By so doing, business decision-makers can
come to see sustainable development as a source of success, innovation, and
profitability for companies as discussed by Baumgartner (2014).
Agreeing to a global or industry-wide framework on
sustainable development is another major challenge for businesses and governments,
due to divergent outlook among countries about the use of resources; because of
cultural differences (Geissdoerfer et al., 2017). Availability of resources,
and their economic importance to nations are also factors which complicates
reaching a global consensus on sustainable development (Kates et al., 2005).
Additionally, the emergence of Asian economies such as
China (Barkemeyer et al., 2014), who researchers like Iqbal and Pierson (2017)
have opined pay lip service to sustainable development, as Chinese State-owned
Enterprises continue to engage in sharp practices such as Child Labour. These
practices which give China a trade advantage puts pressure on rival businesses
in the Western Nations whose governments have embraced policies that encourage
sustainable development. Although it is moot whether China is taking concrete
steps to make businesses more sustainable or not, still, Sneddon et al. (2006)
acknowledged that the issue of reaching a consensus by developed and developing
countries is a significant challenge for drafting workable policies on
sustainable development. Despite this, it often remains arguable whether
companies that adopt sustainable practices benefit from the competitive
advantage (Adams and Zutshi, 2004).
However, according to Lopez et al. (2007), some
successful businesses are beginning to classify their concepts and strategy(s)
with terminologies inclined towards sustainability. Nowadays, it is common for
businesses to link its operations with terms like talent management, waste
reduction, customer loyalty, brand reputation, environmental management,
quality management, and corporate ethics. And these concepts constitute some
common practices of sustainable development. These are considered appropriate strategies
that could lead to better corporate management and eventually brilliant
performance. The perspective of sustainability provides a framework upon which
we can study the practices adopted and how it creates value. It is against this
background that the proposed study will take place.
the research problem
In recent times, sustainability has become central to
most discussions worldwide, mostly due to increased awareness of the danger of
depleting natural resources, according to Bocken et al. (2014). The World
Commission on Environment and Development (1987) has defined
“sustainability” as “economic developments that meet the
requirements of the present generation without endangering future generations
from meeting their own needs.” The clamour
for more sustainable use of resources is however very crucial now, because of
the ever-growing global population; depleting natural resources; as well as the
scarcity of resources which are all as a result of increased use of raw
materials in the production and service-generating sector (Kolk, 2016).
This consciousness though has increased efforts for
more renewable sources of energy; and the quest for organic and biodegradable
products (Adeola, 2000), since it is now apparently clear that doing business,
as usual, is detrimental. Nonetheless, many organizations still struggle with
working out sustainable development initiatives that will ultimately make a
significant positive impact without stifling their businesses (Geissdoerfer et
Thus, this research work aims to identify the ideal
operational sustainable development activities suitable for an organization to
qualify as a viable entity, and how this can lead to the achievement of better
business performance and value creation for the shareholders. Furthermore, this
research will highlight how embedding the concept of sustainability in the
process and operation of an entity can help to gain competitive advantage with
the hope that its findings; as well as recommendations, will be insightful,
thus serving as precedence for organizations to replicate partially or wholly
in their operations. To do these, specific questions that this research aims to
What are the qualities of a sustainable company amidst
the present economic and environmental challenges?
What are the practical measures to be implemented
towards achieving the status of a sustainable business?
What is the model for measuring business performance
of sustainable business?
Therefore, during this study, the actions, operations,
and results that signify steps towards achieving sustainability will be
documented, patterned and linked to the overall business performance of an
organization. Bearing in mind that, a sustainable business would not only pay
attention to its activities, but also that of its entire supply chain
(Casagrande, 1999 cited in Barkemeyer et al., 2014).
This is a study of sustainable development frame-work
adopted by FMCG organisations in Nigeria. It aims to unravel the appropriate
systematic approach to classify business performance that delivers
sustainability, and the inadequacy of the present practices, based on the
peculiarities of Nigeria business environment. The following theoretical
framework will be used to guide this research.
Theory and Sustainable Development (SD)
According to Baumgartner (2014), “bringing
sustainability issues into the boardroom of companies is a central and
important issue for a successful development of sustainable societies”.
Baumgartner (2014), also advocates that the boardroom is just the start of the
SD discussion; being that stakeholders to any business, encompass a host of
others who are not often present in the boardroom, such as advocacy groups,
consumers, vendors to the business, as well as shareholders; whose understanding of the business’ position
on sustainability would help to get their buy-in and appreciation of how SD
affects their interest in the organization, as well as manage the changes that will ensue (Henisz et
Besides, Bocken et al. (2014), suggest that a
sustainable business combines a Triple Bottom Line approach and an extensive
range of stakeholder interests, involving environment and society which are
significant and influential in driving corporate innovation and business
purpose forward. Although Steurer (2005), proclaims that when scholars try to
gain a better understanding of corporate sustainability, they leave
corporations and their performance on the sidelines. Nonetheless, stakeholder’s
theory will be used in this research to investigate how SD initiatives impact
changes in business activities; as well as in determining areas of convergence
of diverse stakeholders’ interest.
Environment and Sustainable Development (SD)
Narula and Dunning (2000) acknowledged that every
country still has its uniqueness even though globalization has increased
social, cultural, political, and economic interdependence that has resulted in
several changes in business environments of countries. Therefore organizations
need to be aware of the broader issues that affect their management activities
(Gomez-Mejia and Balkin,1992,p.34). Sneddon et al. (2006) also agree with this
view, saying that sustainability cannot be analysed in isolation because its
effectiveness depends on its responsiveness to the internal and external factor
impacting the organisation. Although Kolk (2016) admits that analysing and
choosing an appropriate sustainable development framework is becoming much more
complicated and difficult for multinational corporations operating
Moreover, Sneddon et al. (2006) noted that two decades
after the publication of Our Common Future by Bruntland, the World’s political
and environmental landscape had changed significantly. However, most of the
research has focused on organisations operating in developed economies, while
considerations of the cultural differences of developing countries like Nigeria
have been a secondary factor (Jackson, 2004).
Therefore understanding the peculiarities of the environment businesses
operate in developing countries like Nigeria, will be useful in this research
Performance from Accounting Perspective
Business performance can be measured by the marketing,
operations and accounting perspective (Otley, 1999). The accounting perspective
is the traditional form of measurement, as managers’ focus was chiefly on the
profit maximisation, while other non-financial benefits were discounted,
(Norreklit, 2000). Although this approach helped to maintain a good cash flow
operating profit as well as asset values, however overtime deficiencies in
other parts of the business such as marketing and operations have been noticed
to negatively affect profits (Otley, 1999).
Despite the awareness of the inadequacies of analysing
business performance from the accounting perspectives, this research work will
still embark on review of the financial records of FMCG companies in Nigeria.
Doing this is vital to this research, bearing in mind the negative bias of SD
by business owners and shareholders, who also are stakeholders; that businesses
profit is secondary in SD discussions, as identified by Boele et al.
(2001,p.122). Additionally, the socio-economic environment of developing countries
like Nigeria which can make people such as shareholders value financial rewards
more than other extrinsic rewards (Budhwar and Debrah, 2001,p.201). Although
investors recognise that investing according to sustainable principles has the
capacity to yield long-term value (Lopez et al., 2007). Thus, employing the
accounting perspective will be essential to establish a positive correlation
between SD and profit in order to uncover that the anxiety is not an issue in
the long-run for FMCG companies in Nigeria
In spite of the various research on sustainable
development and corporate sustainability, researchers have defined corporate
sustainability in numerous ways. For example, Francesco & Antonio (2006) of
the opinion that a sustainability-oriented company is one that takes time to
evolve by factoring the state of the company’s economic, social and
environmental dimensions, as well as of its processes and performance. They,
however, linked to financial and competitive success, social legitimacy and
efficient use of natural resources which are intertwined with the company’s
aims and objectives. Baumgartner and Ebner (2010) on other hands, simply say
Sustainable Development when incorporated by the organization is called
corporate sustainability, and it contains, like sustainable development, all
three pillars: economic, ecological and social. In line with this view,
Baedeker et al. (2002) espouse that economic sustainability embraces general
aspects of an organization that has to be respected – next to environmental and
social aspects – in order to remain in the market for a long time.
Despite recent researchers emphasis on the economic
aspect of Sustainable Development, skeptics contend that this notion of
”sustainable growth” is intentionally ambiguous, and an attempt to divert
attention from imminent environmental limits to economic growth (Daly, 1996),
which is what they believe Brundtland promulgated in 1987.
Additionally, some researchers like Steurer et al.
(2005) suggest that, while Sustainable Development policies come from
governments and often imply some sort of regulatory force, management systems
are applied more or less voluntarily by a company’s management. This view was
however refuted by Boele et al. (2001, p. 122)
who argued that companies are ”confronted by the growing power of key
stakeholder groups and the multifarious relations between them, which represent
pseudo mandatory aspect of corporate sustainability that puts pressure on
businesses; especially in the liberal economies.
Henisz et al. (2014) argue that efforts to win the
cooperation of and reduce the conflict with external stakeholders, rather than
merely altering the distribution of rents among direct factors of production,
can be conceived as investments in political and social capital.
Although previous researchers have argued that
managers’ focus on any engagement with third parties on behalf of the
organization other than for the purpose of profit maximization for shareholders
is subversive and counterproductive (Barett et al.,2016). However, recent
occurrences in the business world suggest to the contrary, as Bal et al. (2013)
noted that many business endeavors have failed because of failure to properly
engage with stakeholders. Moreover, global trends in the past decades have
indicated that the corporate world is changing, and so is its mandate. Thus the
sole focus on profit maximization is no longer in the best interest of
organisations (Magner, 2008, p.128).
Additionally, the Brent spar case involving Shell and
Greenpeace which gave bad publicity to Shell, when in fact Greenpeace
overestimated the remaining oil in Shell’s old storage facility which was to be
disposed at sea, is also a case that shows that better co-operation with
stakeholders to a business could have prevented the crisis that ensued which
was not envisaged by shell (Bennie, 1998). Therefore identification is a
critical component of the initial scoping phase and should occur before an
engagement plan is formulated and consultations begin (Bal et al., 2013).
Although in practice stakeholder identification and engagement is a tedious
process, as each stakeholder usually has their own interest in the project
which may cause different priorities, conflicts and dramatically increase the
complexity of the situation (Henisz et al., 2014). Nonetheless appreciating the
stakeholders’ variance is also important in prioritizing those that are more
powerful. As stakeholder’s interest is greatly influenced by the socio-political,
economic, and cultural peculiarities of a country such as Nigeria, that
business operators need to factor into their decisions.
This research intends to make use of chiefly
Qualitative approach for data gathering, as this method provides ‘the detail
and depth of observation’ (Bryman, 2006, p.99). Besides, the qualitative
approach to data gathering is useful when conducting exploratory and
explanatory study in order to measure data that seem immeasurable, such as
opinion, values, and judgment (Saunders et al., 2007,p.315), which I presume
this research will entail a lot of. Furthermore qualitative data-gathering
forms a part of many Business Management research inquiries (Anderson, 2009,
Despite the choice of qualitative method of data
gathering, the research is, however, open to the use of a mix of quantitative
and qualitative approach where deemed necessary
to analyse numerical data; as Quantitative method is useful in
clarifying dependent and independent variables under investigation (Anderson,
2009,p.204), given certain matrices on business performance measurements.
Moreover, the use of both qualitative and Quantitative method for data
gathering helps to have a more balanced view, and provide better validity and
reliable data to answer the research questions (Bryman, 2006).
One-on-one Interviews with senior managers such as the
chief executive officer, who is eligible to comment on strategic decisions will
also be conducted, with the purpose of understanding how corporate sustainability
is perceived by different functional managers in the chosen organisations.
Although it is envisaged there might be power issues in favour of the
interviewees for the reason that the interviews will be conducted in their
offices. Nonetheless, the interviews will be conducted there, being that their
offices is the most likely environment to get the interviewees to relax and
provide insightful answers to the interview questions. These interviews will be
tape-recorded, and notes will also be taken, however the information to be
obtained and how it will be recorded will be clarified to limit interviewees’
bias (Anderson, 2009,p.204).
Additionally, the interview questions will be
semi-structured and open ended, to enable follow-ups on the interviewee’s
responses, with probing questions as recommended by Saunders et al.
(2007,p.312) in order to appropriately capture their views and perceptions.
Although interview session runs the risk of the winding on to irrelevant issues
when using semi-structure interview unlike structured interviews, however
efforts will be made to control such situations by subtly redirecting of the
conversation back to the topic of discussion as recommended by Morgan
(1997,p.11). To enhance the quality of this research work, Qualitative
questionnaires will also be administered randomly to identify stakeholders from
Fast Moving Consumer Goods sector businesses operating in Nigeria to also
gather their opinion about corporate sustainability. This sample size is
selected bearing in mind the 1-10% ‘magic sampling fraction’ (Dornyei, 2003) in
order to accurately get their opinions, since it is not possible to interview
all of the stakeholders to Businesses in Nigeria. Although the research will
bear in mind that questionnaires run the risk of not being properly completed,
or returned, therefore to increase and encourage objective responses, the
questionnaires will contain unambiguous questions and administered at social
events, sales outlets and distribution channels of these businesses in Nigeria;
where a cluster of respondents can be found, including clear instructions on
how to respond anonymously.
Other relevant literature will also be reviewed to
examine previous work done by other researchers to see the point of divergence
and convergence with the findings of research of this research.
The notes taken during interviews will be looked at,
and data obtained from recorded interviews will be cautiously transcribed, and
analysed using Constant Comparison/Grounded Theory to look for indicators of
categories in events and behaviour, name them and code them on document
Data from the questionnaires will be analysed by
content analysis and interpretive phenomenological analysis (Smith and Osborn,
2003,p.52) to explore in detail how participants make sense of their personal
and social world in respect to sustainability as a whole and more importantly,
corporate sustainability. Numerical data that emanate from the research finding
will be analysed statistically using Microsoft Excel. After data analysis, the
results obtained will be interpreted, and information will be put together to
answer the research questions.
This research is expected to
span through a period of approximately 3 years from start to submission. See
table below for the sequence of activities.