Firms and sustainability: mapping the intellectual origins and structure of the corporate sustainability field

Martina K. Linnenluecke*, Andrew Griffiths

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Citations (Scopus)


Business research has repeatedly been criticized for its lack of engagement with pressing issues such as climate change, despite a surge of publications on corporate sustainability topics in recent years. We are therefore interested in identifying the knowledge development and knowledge gaps in business scholarship on the relationship between firms, environment and society. This paper provides a systematic review of the corporate sustainability field in form of a bibliometric analysis based on citation data acquired from the Social Sciences Citation Index. The final dataset contained 3117 records published between 1953 and 2011. Our analysis shows that, over the last 50 years, the field of corporate sustainability has emerged from a few primary nodes of research and developed into four distinct conceptual genealogies: corporate social performance theory, stakeholder theory, a corporate social performance versus economic performance debate, and a greening of management debate. The results of our analysis suggest four key findings. First, the four genealogies only comprise a relatively narrowly focused research scope. Second, there is very little integration and citation of work in other disciplinary areas such as ecology or environmental science. Third, the existing literature has a strong focus on empirically examining the relationship between a firm's environmental and/or social performance and its financial performance. Finally, there is little consideration of managerial implications and consequences of climate change in the corporate sustainability literature to date. We suggest that while this may be a reflection of an insular field, it may also be a role played by the management literature turning away from problem based issues in favor of empirical results, theory building, and the identification of variables that influence firm profitability and can be subjected to direct managerial control. We conclude by outlining pathways for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)382-391
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • bibliometric analysis
  • business
  • climate change
  • corporate social performance
  • corporate social responsibility
  • corporate sustainability
  • greening
  • stakeholder theory


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