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Legitimacy and Organizational Sustainability


  • Tom Thomas


  • Eric Lamm



The literature regarding social and environmental sustainability of business focuses primarily on rationales for adopting sustainability strategies and operational practices in support of that goal. In contrast, we examine sustainability from a perspective that has received far less research attention—attitudes that inform managerial decision-making. We develop a conceptual model that identifies six elemental categories of attitudes that can be held independently or aggregated to yield a meta-attitude representing the legitimacy of sustainability. Our model distinguishes among three types of internally held attitudes and externally perceived subjective norms: pragmatic, moral, and cognitive. We propose a refinement of Ajzen’s (In: Kuhl J, Beckmann J (eds) Action control: from cognition to behavior, 1985 ; Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 50:179–211, 1991 ) Theory of planned behavior (TPB) that incorporates these sub-categories of personal attitudes and subjective norms. Practical implications are discussed including how organizations considering adopting sustainability programs might use the model as a conceptual tool to help achieve and assess program success. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Suggested Citation

  • Tom Thomas & Eric Lamm, 2012. "Legitimacy and Organizational Sustainability," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 110(2), pages 191-203, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:110:y:2012:i:2:p:191-203
    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-012-1421-4

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Eric Lamm & Jennifer Tosti-Kharas & Cynthia King, 2015. "Empowering Employee Sustainability: Perceived Organizational Support Toward the Environment," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 128(1), pages 207-220, April.
    2. Itziar Castelló & Michael Etter & Finn Årup Nielsen, 2016. "Strategies of Legitimacy Through Social Media: The Networked Strategy," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 53(3), pages 402-432, May.
    3. Rajat Panwar & Karen Paul & Erlend Nybakk & Eric Hansen & Derek Thompson, 2014. "The Legitimacy of CSR Actions of Publicly Traded Companies Versus Family-Owned Companies," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 125(3), pages 481-496, December.
    4. James Swaim & Michael Maloni & Stuart Napshin & Amy Henley, 2014. "Influences on Student Intention and Behavior Toward Environmental Sustainability," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 124(3), pages 465-484, October.
    5. Yuan, Ruizhi & Liu, Martin J. & Luo, Jun & Yen, Dorothy A., 2016. "Reciprocal transfer of brand identity and image associations arising from higher education brand extensions," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 69(8), pages 3069-3076.
    6. Deborah de Lange & Timo Busch & Javier Delgado-Ceballos, 2012. "Sustaining Sustainability in Organizations," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 110(2), pages 151-156, October.
    7. Kumar, Bipul & Sinha, Piyush Kumar & Shukla, P. R. & Abhishek, 2013. "Broadening the Concept of Sustainability and Measuring its Impact on Firm’s Performance," IIMA Working Papers WP2013-08-01, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, Research and Publication Department.
    8. Omid Sabbaghi & Gerald Cavanagh, 2015. "Jesuit, Catholic, and Green: Evidence from Loyola University Chicago," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 127(2), pages 317-326, March.
    9. Paul Sanderson & David Seidl & John Roberts, 2013. "The Limits of Flexible Regulation: Managers' Perceptions of Corporate Governance Codes and 'Comply-or-Explain'," Working Papers wp439, Centre for Business Research, University of Cambridge.


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