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Tensions Between Firm Size and Sustainability Goals: Fair Trade Coffee in the United States

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Author Info

  • Philip H. Howard

    ()
    (Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, Michigan State University, 480 Wilson RD, Rm. 316, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA)

  • Daniel Jaffee

    ()
    (Department of Sociology, Washington State University, 14204 NE Salmon Creek Avenue, Vancouver, WA 98686, USA)

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    Abstract

    Sustainability marketing trends have typically been led by smaller, more mission-driven firms, but are increasingly attracting larger, more profit-driven firms. Studying the strategies of firms that are moving away from these two poles ( i.e ., mission-driven but larger firms, and profit-driven firms that are more committed to sustainability) may help us to better understand the potential to resolve tensions between firm size and sustainability goals. We used this approach to analyze a case study of the U.S. fair trade coffee industry, employing the methods of data visualization and media content analysis. We identified three firms that account for the highest proportion of U.S. fair trade coffee purchases (Equal Exchange, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Starbucks) and analyzed their strategies, including reactions to recent changes in U.S. fair trade standards. We found an inverse relationship between firm size and demonstrated commitment to sustainability ideals, and the two larger firms were much less likely to acknowledge conflicts between size and sustainability in their public discourse. We conclude that similar efforts to increase sustainability marketing for other products and services should be more skeptical of approaches that rely on primarily on the participation of large, profit-driven firms.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by MDPI, Open Access Journal in its journal Sustainability.

    Volume (Year): 5 (2013)
    Issue (Month): 1 (January)
    Pages: 72-89

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    Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:5:y:2013:i:1:p:72-89:d:22558

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    Related research

    Keywords: firm size; Fair Trade; coffee; corporations; certification;

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    References

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    1. Chris Arnot & Peter C. Boxall & Sean B. Cash, 2006. "Do Ethical Consumers Care About Price? A Revealed Preference Analysis of Fair Trade Coffee Purchases," Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics/Revue canadienne d'agroeconomie, Canadian Agricultural Economics Society/Societe canadienne d'agroeconomie, vol. 54(4), pages 555-565, December.
    2. Acs, Zoltan J & Audretsch, David B, 1987. "Innovation, Market Structure, and Firm Size," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 69(4), pages 567-74, November.
    3. Perfecto, Ivette & Vandermeer, John & Mas, Alex & Pinto, Lorena Soto, 2005. "Biodiversity, yield, and shade coffee certification," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(4), pages 435-446, September.
    4. Hockerts, Kai & Wüstenhagen, Rolf, 2010. "Greening Goliaths versus emerging Davids -- Theorizing about the role of incumbents and new entrants in sustainable entrepreneurship," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 25(5), pages 481-492, September.
    5. Iain Davies & Bob Doherty & Simon Knox, 2010. "The Rise and Stall of a Fair Trade Pioneer: The Cafédirect Story," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 92(1), pages 127-147, March.
    6. Templet, Paul H., 1995. "Grazing the commons: an empirical analysis of externalities, subsidies and sustainability," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(2), pages 141-159, February.
    7. J. Lepoutre & A. Heene, 2006. "Investigating the Impact of Firm Size on Small Business Social Responsibility: a Critical Review," Working Papers of Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Ghent University, Belgium 06/396, Ghent University, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration.
    8. repec:feb:natura:0061 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Darryl Reed, 2009. "What do Corporations have to do with Fair Trade? Positive and Normative Analysis from a Value Chain Perspective," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 86(1), pages 3-26, April.
    10. Gavin Fridell, 2009. "The Co-Operative and the Corporation: Competing Visions of the Future of Fair Trade," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 86(1), pages 81-95, April.
    11. Thomas Reardon & C. Peter Timmer & Christopher B. Barrett & Julio Berdegué, 2003. "The Rise of Supermarkets in Africa, Asia, and Latin America," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 85(5), pages 1140-1146.
    12. Jeff Neilson & Bill Pritchard, 2010. "Fairness and ethicality in their place: the regional dynamics of fair trade and ethical sourcing agendas in the plantation districts of South India," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 42(8), pages 1833-1851, August.
    13. Iain Davies, 2009. "Alliances and Networks: Creating Success in the UK Fair Trade Market," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 86(1), pages 109-126, April.
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