Institutionalizing Environmental Performance in US Industry: Is It Happening and What if It Does Not?

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A historical review of the ways business organizations in the United States have responded to demands that they improve their environmental performance reveals two clear outcomes: firms that effectively institutionalize improved environmental performance can garner significant strategic advantages for their efforts, and firms that do not often suffer severe legal consequences. Thus, institutionalization is a pivotal organizational process which determines whether a firm's environmental performance results in improved operating efficiency and market opportunities or in increased legal and regulatory hassles. In this paper, we use a survey and case-law review to investigate the degree to which improved environmental performance is being institutionalized in US firms and to determine what the potential legal consequences are for firms that fail to achieve such institutionalization. Our findings suggest that firms in US industry have made considerable efforts to institutionalize improved environmental performance, but they still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, our findings also suggest that failing to effectively institutionalize environmental performance has the potential for dire consequences, such as jail terms for strategic managers for environmental violations by subordinates.