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School Research Seminar Series - The Social Energy Penalty: Assessing the Social Cost of Symbolic Corporate Environmentalism

7 March 2012

Time: 4:00 - 6:00pm
Venue: FB4.04/08 Francis Bancroft Building, 4th Floor, Mile End Campus

Speaker: Professor Frances Bowen, Chair in Innovation Studies, School of Business and Management, Queen Mary, University of London 

Companies issue sustainability reports, join environmental industry groups, adopt eco-labels and participate in government green programmes to show environmental awareness. Researchers increasingly acknowledge that much of this corporate environmentalism is symbolic, and doesn’t result in substantive environmental change. While firms pay the direct costs of symbolic activities such as funding public relations groups, we have so far paid too little attention to an indirect cost on society – a ‘social energy penalty’ - as powerful corporate actors limit the social conversation on environmental problems and their solutions. In this seminar, I will define, theoretically elaborate and assess the ‘social energy penalty’. The idea of the social energy penalty emerged from several separate research projects I have conducted over the last 5 years, addressing various issues within corporate environmentalism in diverse empirical contexts and using different methods. Together these studies suggest that there is a social cost to symbolic corporate environmentalism, and provisional contingencies around when the social energy penalty may be highest. Theoretically elaborating the social energy penalty should help both policymakers and researchers begin to find ways to recognise and overcome it.

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