Environmental Stewardship in the Private Sector: Arriving at a Green Hands Theory

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Views on the intent and outcomes of corporate social responsibility (CSR) range from laudatory to skeptical. Regardless of the mixed reception and questions raised about the meaning of CSR, it is clear that the private sector's increasing power in the 21st century requires a correspondingly well-defined range of responsibilities. This dissertation investigates why and how firms choose to engage in CSR. It does so through three essays that explore the private sector's approach to environmental stewardship CSR (ESCSR) with particular emphasis on the role of employees in ESCSR.

The first essay engages in an empirical study that asks broad questions about private sector employees' opinions towards CSR. It asks how employees understand CSR; how they prioritize environmental goals under the CSR umbrella; and whether or not their CSR- and ESCSR-related activities impact their feelings of personal well-being and career fulfillment. The results of this essay's original survey suggest that the private sector's approach to ESCSR should leverage employees' interest in and enthusiasm for CSR and ESCSR to achieve environmental stewardship and CSR goals. The second essay investigates the actual extent to which private sector leadership engages with employees on matters related to CSR and ESCSR through both a statistical and case study. The statistical study asks what variables make firms more likely to afford employees a substantial role in CSR activities, resulting in the discovery that a more diverse and larger leadership body is a significant indicator of a firm's willingness to engage employees. The case study then pushes the statistical findings into more detail by illuminating three firms' rationales behind their ESCSR approaches. The final, ethics-focused essay builds on the findings of the first and second essays to propose an original theory that builds on the legal theory of clean hands to arrive at `green hands.' This green hands theory outlines a specific and normatively robust framework firms can adopt to achieve goals related both to employee and environmental stewardship. I conclude by discussing implications for policy recommendations and areas for future research.