Political institutions, multinational corporations, and the quest for sustainable capitalism
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Concerns for the state of the natural environment and related demands for the establishment of more sustainable forms of production are rising across the world. In view of these developments, this dissertation asks two interrelated questions: What factors explain cross-national differences in multinational corporations’ (MNCs) corporate environmental responsibility (CER) efforts? And: Do these efforts in their entirety represent viable long-term alternatives to governmental environmental regulatory regimes? Answering these questions helps determine whether corporations’ self-regulatory commitments are generally genuine, whether they are driven primarily by legislative pressure or consumer demand, and – most importantly – how useful they are in preserving the global environmental commons. Applying the varieties of capitalism approach to the analysis of 54 Fortune Global 500 companies’ CER efforts across 21 OECD economies, this dissertation argues that cross-national institutional differences are a central and hitherto neglected factor in explaining the relationship between popular demands for environmental sustainability and corporate responses to these demands. A novel dataset containing data on 12 CER indicators is constructed by analyzing information publicly available on each company’s national websites. The statistical relationship between the quantity of CER efforts and several alternative specifications of institutional systems suggests that firms disclose more information on their corporate environmental responsibility efforts in more-liberal market economies (LMEs) than in more-coordinated market economies (CMEs). Subsequently, overall and disaggregate ecological footprints of CMEs, relying more heavily on governmental intervention, are compared to those of LMEs, relying more heavily on private regulatory regimes. The results indicate that – even though the institutional framework of LMEs provide stronger incentives for corporations to invest in individualistic CER efforts – CMEs outperform the former with regard to their environmental performance. The findings not only challenge the common perception of a trend towards more homogeneous global corporate responsibility efforts but also underline the continuing relevance of sound institutional design and governmental environmental management in an age of deregulation and privatization.