Examining the legitimation strategies of sustainability-oriented entrepreneurs
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The idea that business plays a crucial role in the sustainable development of our world has grown within the corporate sustainability literature and in global sustainability discourse generally. There is also a growing focus in entrepreneurship literature on entrepreneurs being future-oriented by balancing efforts in making contributions to the triple bottom line of people, planet, profit (Tilley & Young, 2009). The purpose of this research is to provide an examination of how sustainability-oriented entrepreneurs pursue legitimacy. Specifically, this research explores a) how multiple sustainability pillars manifest as field logics which shape the legitimation strategies of sustainability-oriented entrepreneurs, and b) how individual constructs of prior sustainability knowledge, sustainability orientation and sustainability intention manifest as factors of entrepreneurial agency in legitimation, influencing sustainability-oriented entrepreneur responses to these multiple field logics in the pursuit of legitimacy within the organisational field. This research utilises a qualitative research design involving interviews and documentation analysis with award-winning sustainability-oriented entrepreneurs who have successfully gained legitimacy, as well as several context interviews with awarding bodies and stakeholders. Using a neo-institutional framework, this research provides a number of contributions to the emergent sustainability-oriented entrepreneurship field, legitimacy theory and organisational field theory. It finds that the individual constructs of prior sustainability knowledge, sustainability orientation and sustainability intention play an important role in shaping legitimation behaviour in response to sustainability field logics. In particular, sustainability intention as a construct embodies the ‘paradox’ of sustainabilityoriented entrepreneurship, and learning to successfully overcome this paradox to strategically utilise intention in legitimation is crucial for these entrepreneurs. Knowledge of the role of these constructs in legitimation could assist sustainability-oriented entrepreneurs in strategically utilizing individual constructs as agency when dealing with diverse stakeholder expectations to achieve their enterprising goals. Strengthening knowledge on factors important for legitimacy is pertinent in supporting this shared value approach to entrepreneurship.
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