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2018 internalization of environmental practices and institutional j bus ethics

J Bus Ethics
DOI 10.1007/s10551-015-2960-2

Internalization of Environmental Practices and Institutional
Complexity: Can Stakeholders Pressures Encourage
Greenwashing?
Francesco Testa1 • Olivier Boiral2 • Fabio Iraldo1

Received: 4 April 2015 / Accepted: 16 November 2015
Ó Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Abstract This paper analyzes the determinants underlying the internalization of proactive environmental management
proposed by certifiable environmental
management systems (EMSs) such as those set out in ISO
14001 and the European Management and Auditing
Scheme (EMAS). Using a study based on 232 usable
questionnaires from EMAS-registered organizations, we
explored the influence of institutional pressures from different stakeholders and the role of corporate strategy in the
‘‘substantial’’ versus ‘‘symbolic’’ integration of environmental practices. The results highlighted that although
institutional pressures generally strengthen the internalization of proactive environmental practices, the influence
of stakeholders can either support the integration of these

practices or encourage their superficial adoption. For
example, while pressure from suppliers and shareholders
contribute to corporate greening, pressure from customers
and industrial associations tend to encourage greenwashing
(i.e., the superficial and misleading adoption of environmental practices). Product quality-oriented strategies also
positively influence EMS internalization. The paper sheds
& Francesco Testa
f.testa@sssup.it; francesco.testa@sssup.it
Olivier Boiral
Olivier.Boiral@mng.ulaval.ca
Fabio Iraldo
fabio.iraldo@sssup.it
1

Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Institute of
Management, Piazza Martiri della Liberta` 33, 56127 Pisa,
Italy

2

Faculte´ des Sciences de L’administration, De´partement de
Management, Universite´ Laval, Pavillon Palasis-Prince,
2325, rue de la Terrasse, Local 1638, Que´bec, QC G1V 0A6,
Canada

light on the institutional complexity underlying the substantial versus symbolic implementation of environmental
practices, and questions the dominant isomorphic view of
EMS adoption. The paper also bridges the gap between
complementary approaches on corporate greening, notably
neo-institutional and stakeholder theories.
Keywords Environmental management system Á
Environmental strategy Á Greenwashing Á Institutional
complexity Á Stakeholders

Introduction
The adoption of certifiable environmental management
systems (EMSs) such as those proposed by the ISO 14001
and EMAS standards has become common practice for
corporate greening in most sectors worldwide. ISO 14001
was launched in 1996 and is the most widespread EMS


standard, with more than 300,100 organizations certified in
2013 (ISO 2013). The Eco Management and Audit
Scheme (EMAS) was introduced by the European Commission in 1993 and has been available to non-EU organizations since 2009. In 2015, approximately 3000
organizations are registered in EMAS, covering approximately 9800 sites (European Commission 2015).
Despite a few differences in the requirements, the
EMAS and ISO 14001 standards are based on the same
type of management system. This system echoes the
Deming cycle (Darnall 2006; Boiral 2007): plan (identification of significant environmental aspects, policy, objectives, and improvement programmes for the environment),
do (training, communication, operational control, etc.),
check (performance measurement, non-compliance and
corrective actions, and audits), and act (management

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review and resources allocation). These principles also
cover the main characteristics of the more ‘‘proactive’’
environmental management practices, including top management support, development of environmental indicators,
and employee training and involvement (Buysse and Verbeke 2003; Darnall et al. 2010; Henriques and Sadorsky
1996).
The determinants and implications of these EMSs have
been widely studied (e.g., Bansal and Hunter 2003; Delmas
2002; Glachant et al. 2002; Heras-Saizarbitoria and Boiral
2013; King et al. 2005). Generally speaking, certifiable
EMSs are expected to increase corporate legitimacy and
improve environmental practices (Boiral and Henri 2012;
Testa et al. 2014). The certification process contributes to
strengthening the ‘‘legitimacy’’ of organizations in the eyes
of external stakeholders, to whom environmental practices
and performance in this area can appear opaque (Boiral
2007; Delmas 2001; Jiang and Bansal 2003). The acquisition of the ISO 14001 or EMAS certificates tends to
signal a reliable and credible environmental commitment
by the organization, thus enhancing its reputation (Delmas,
2001; Heras-Saizarbitoria and Boiral 2013; King et al.
2005; Potoski and Prakash 2005; Rahman and Post 2012).
However, the extent to which external pressure for
certification really contributes to the internalization of
environmental practices remains uncertain and understudied. Based on the empirical literature on the implementation of EMSs (Boiral 2007; Christmann and Taylor 2006;
Jiang and Bansal 2003), internalization can be defined as
the substantial rather than superficial integration of specific
practices and principles proposed by EMSs in organizations’ daily activities.
This internalization cannot be equated with the adoption
of a formal EMS. Firstly, the impact of certifiable EMSs on
environmental performance is controversial (Barla 2007;
Boiral 2007; Darnall et al. 2008; Russo 2009). The adoption of EMS, such as the ISO 14001 and EMAS standards,
does not necessarily contribute to improving environmental
performance and they are often superficially implemented
(Boiral and Henri 2012; Castka and Prajogo 2013;
Christmann and Taylor 2006; Testa et al. 2014; Yin and
Schmeidler 2009). Secondly, these standards are often used
for marketing purposes rather than to really improve
environmental practices (Boiral 2007; Darnall 2006; Jiang
and Bansal 2003). As a result, certifiable EMSs could
contribute to greenwashing, which has been defined ‘‘as the
intersection of two firm behaviors: poor environmental
performance and positive communication about environmental performance’’ (Delmas and Cuerel Burbano 2011,
p. 65).
Although some studies have found that positive and
negative environmental actions represent distinct constructs (Mattingly and Berman 2006; Post et al. 2011),

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these actions are not necessarily related to the corporate
communication on environmental issues, which tends to
artificially inflate performance in this area (e.g., Laufer
2003; Bowen and Aragon-Correa 2014; Delmas and Cuerel
Burbano 2011; Du 2014; Boiral 2007; Lyon and Montgomery 2015). In this perspective, greenwashing appears as
an external projection of a positive image of a firm, which
is not reflected in its internal behaviors regarding environmental issues. Consequently, stakeholder pressure for
the adoption of a certified EMS does not necessarily
strengthen environmental practices and performance in this
area. In certain cases, such pressure could even increase the
contradictions between the appearance of corporate
greening through certifiable EMSs and the actual practices
inside the organization. This type of contradiction has been
highlighted by Hawthorne (2012) on the frequent disconnection between the image projected by the most admired
companies—such as Apple, Starbucks, and American
Apparel—and their actual internal practices. For example,
although Apple is one of the most admired companies, it
‘‘has historically been less environmentally responsible,
less worker friendly, and much less open than other tech
companies’’ (Hawthorne (2012, p. 73). Hawthorne echoes
the numerous criticisms of corporate greenwashing and
contradictions between talk and action (e.g., Atvesson
1990; Marziliano 1998; Cho et al. 2015; Boiral 2013).
Generally speaking, greenwashing tends to undermine
corporate accountability toward stakeholders and the
credibility of environmental initiatives (Laufer 2003;
Boiral 2013; Cho et al. 2015). Misleading appearances
regarding corporate sustainability can also create confusion and loss of confidence, in particular among consumers and the general public who have increased
difficulties in identifying truly socially responsible firms
(Parguel et al. 2011; Chen and Chang 2013a). Finally, the
excessive gap between talk and action regarding corporate
sustainability is the subject of public criticism in the
media and by NGOs such as CorpWatch, which gives out
greenwashing awards.
In this perspective, the prevention of greenwashing
through the internalization of EMS and substantial environmental practices represents an important challenge for
stakeholders, businesses, and society. Although the literature has mostly focused on the determinants of the adoption
of certifiable EMSs, their implementation does not necessarily mean that the environmental practices on which they
are based have been substantially integrated. Yet this
integration is key to corporate greening (Bansal and Hunter
2003; Qi et al. 2013; Testa et al. 2014). Paradoxically, with
a few exceptions (Castka and Prajogo 2013; Christmann
and Taylor 2006), the external factors explaining the
internalization of certifiable EMSs have not been studied in
depth in the literature.


Internalization of Environmental Practices and Institutional Complexity: Can Stakeholders…

This study contributes to a better understanding of the
institutional complexity underlying the internalization of
environmental practices through the adoption of a certifiable EMS. This complexity is related to the diversity of
external pressures and expectations by various stakeholders. Research on institutional complexity has shown that
external pressures are based on various and sometimes
conflicting institutional logics (Greenwood et al. 2011,
2010; Pache and Santos 2010; Smets and Jarzabkowski
2013). Moreover, the responses of organizations to these
pressures are not isomorphic and may result in various
strategies of adaptation or resistance (Oliver 1991, 1992;
Pache and Santos 2013; Scherer et al. 2013; WestermannBehaylo et al. 2014). Thus, although certifiable EMSs are
based on standardized prescriptions, external pressures for
their adoption are not monolithic and how they are translated into practice can vary significantly from one certified
organization to another.
In this perspective, the factors driving the substantial
internalization of certifiable EMSs need to be further
investigated. The neo-institutional theory and the
resource-based view offer a valuable theoretical framework for shedding more light on how external and

internal factors influence the internalization of an EMS
into strategic and operational activities (see the conceptual model in Fig. 1).
In order to contribute to the current debate on the drivers
of environmental proactive strategies, this study analyzes
the influence of external pressures, coming from various
stakeholders, and the role of corporate strategy in the
internalization of environmental management practices
related to EMAS requirements. Drawing on data from 232
EMAS organizations, we tested whether organizations
enduring greater institutional pressures experience a higher
internalization of EMS requirements. The study also analyzes the influence of different stakeholders and the
strategies focused on cost saving or product quality on the
internalization of EMS requirements.
The rest of the paper is structured as follows. Having
reviewed the literature in order to formulate the appropriate
set of hypotheses, we describe the context of the study, the
data collection process, and illustrate the statistical methods. Next, we present the results achieved. The last section
provides the main conclusions, as well as a discussion of
their implications, limitations, and avenues for further
research.

Fig. 1 Conceptual model

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F. Testa et al.

Literature Review and Development of Hypotheses
The Heterogeneous Internalization
of Environmental Management Systems
An increasing number of companies are adopting formal
EMSs based on certifiable standards. The international
recognition and flexibility of these standards, which can be
adapted to most types of organizational contexts, partly
explain their successful diffusion worldwide (Delmas 2002;
Heras-Saizarbitoria and Boiral 2013; Qi et al. 2012; Testa and
Iraldo 2010). In addition, obtaining the external recognition of
compliance with a certifiable EMS, such as ISO 14001 and
EMAS, provides a signal of environmental leadership to the
market (Raines and Prakash 2005). Considering the list of best
practices of environmental leadership provided by Dechant
and Altman (1994), the EMS can be seen as a manifestation of
integrated environmentalism into a firm’s business planning
and operations. ISO 14001 and EMAS standards require a
combination of management support for environmental initiatives (Sharma 2000; Bansal and Hunter 2003), a clear
definition of roles and responsibilities related to environmental issues (de Brio et al. 2007), and an allocation of sufficient resources for managing environmental issues (Darnall
and Edwards 2006) which allow a company to gain significant
environmental improvements. EMAS requires more stringent
requirements than ISO 14001, particularly with regard to
employee involvement, demonstration of full legal compliance, environmental reporting, and dialog with external
stakeholders (European Commission 2011; HerasSaizarbitoria et al. 2015).
According to the mainstream literature, the implementation of this type of proactive environmental initiatives is
expected to improve environmental performance (Arago´nCorrea and Rubio-Lopez 2007; Berry and Rondinelli 1998;
Sharma and Vredenburg 1998). In addition, the certification process should, in principle, guarantee that the certified organizations comply with the standard requirements
(Darnall 2006; Heras-Saizarbitoria et al. 2013; Potoski and
Prakash 2005).
However, as highlighted in Table 1, the empirical literature on the effectiveness of certifiable EMSs provides a
mixed picture of their real impact on environmental performance (Barla 2007; Boiral 2007; Darnall et al. 2008
Jiang and Bansal 2003). According to many authors, certifiable EMSs actually have a positive impact on different
dimensions: environmental performance (Melnyk et al.
2003; Nishitani et al. 2012; Russo 2009), regulatory compliance (Potoski and Prakash 2005; Prakash and Potoski
2014), and improvement in environmental management
practices (Darnall 2006; King et al. 2005). Conversely,
others studies have found no conclusive evidence of the

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positive effects of EMSs on environmental performance
(Barla 2007; Christmann and Taylor 2006; Jiang and
Bansal 2003) and some have even highlighted negative
impacts such as the bureaucratization of environmental
practices and certification costs (Boiral 2007; Dogui et al.
2014).
The very few specific studies on the impacts of EMAS
on environmental performance have also produced inconclusive results. Iraldo et al. (2009) highlighted that the
EMAS requirements need time to be fully acknowledged
and ‘‘metabolized’’ in daily practices, and their effects on
the improvement in environmental performance only
emerges when the EMS is sufficiently mature. Similarly,
Testa et al. (2014) investigated the impacts of EMAS and
ISO 14001 on the reduction in carbonic anhydride emissions on 229 energy intensive plants in Italy. According to
this study, EMAS requires more significant changes in
organizational structure and employee practices than ISO
14001. As a result, EMAS seems to generate visible
environmental performance improvements only in the long
run, when its prescriptions have been fully integrated into
the management dynamics.
The studies of Iraldo et al. (2009) and Testa et al. (2014)
are in line with previous works on the critical role of the
substantial rather than superficial adoption of EMS practices to improve environmental performance (e.g., Boiral
2007; Fryxell et al. 2004; Heras-Saizarbitoria et al. 2013;
Qi et al. 2012). For example, Yin and Schmeidler (2009)
stressed the heterogeneous environmental outcomes of ISO
14001. They found a positive relationship between the
integration of ISO 14001 requirements in daily practices
and improvements in the environmental performance of
certified facilities in the U.S. Qi et al. (2012) focused on
Chinese ISO 14001 certified companies and found that the
level of internalization of ISO 14001 requirements has a
positive influence on environmental performance. Similarly, the lack of internalization of ISO 14001 is generally
considered as one of the main causes of the ineffectiveness
of this standard in improving environmental practices and
performance (Boiral 2007; Christmann and Taylor 2006;
Heras-Saizarbitoria et al. 2015; Lannelongue et al. 2015).
In this perspective, the conflicting findings of the literature on the effectiveness of EMSs could be related to their
uncertain internalization. In many organizations, certifiable
EMSs are merely adopted symbolically to increase external
legitimacy, rather than to improve internal practices (Boiral
and Henri 2012; Christmann and Taylor 2006). This type of
superficial and misleading adoption of certifiable EMS
represents one of the many forms of greenwashing, which,
as highlighted by Lyon and Montgomery (2015), can be
manifested in many different ways, including symbolic
management and decoupling between formal structures and


Internalization of Environmental Practices and Institutional Complexity: Can Stakeholders…
Table 1 Studies on the relation between EMS adoption and environmental performance
Authors

ISO
14001/EMAS

Country

Sector

Sample

Year of
analysis

Key variables

Effect on
environmental
performance

Melnyk et al. (2003)

ISO 14001

US

Manufacturing

1510

1998

Waste indicators

Positive

Zobel (2013)

ISO 14001

Sweden

Manufacturing

116 firms

1994–2000

Air/water emission;
resource use, waste

No effect

King et al. (2005)

ISO 14001

US

Manufacturing

7899
facilities

1995–2001

TRI

Positive

Russo (2009)

ISO 14001

US

Electronics
manufacturing

242
facilities

1996–2001

TRI

Positive

Barla (2007)

ISO 14001

Canada

Pulp and paper
firms

37
facilities

1997–2003

Quality of water
effluents

Positive for BOD no
effect for other
parameters

Iraldo et al. (2009)

EMAS

Europe

Manufacturing

101 firms

2006

Air/water emission;
resource use, waste

Positive but under
conditions

Gomez and Rodriguez
(2011)

ISO 14001

Spain

Manufacturing

126 firms

2001–2007

TRI

No effect

Nishitani et al. (2012)

ISO 14001

Japan

Manufacturing

500 firms

2002–2008

PRTR EMS maturity

Positive

Franchetti (2011)

ISO 14001

US

Manufacturing

121 firms

2008

Solid waste
generation

Positive

Daddi et al. (2011)

EMAS

Italy

Manufacturing

64 firms

1998–2008

Water and energy
consumption, waste
production

Unclear

Testa et al. (2014)

EMAS ISO
14001

Italy

Energy

229
facilities

2007–2010

CO2

Unclear

actual practices. This specific form of greenwashing is part
of a symbolic corporate environmentalism, embedded in
organizational practices and symbolic implementation of
recognized standards verified by third-party audits (Boiral
2007; Dogui et al. 2014). As a result, it tends to be less
visible and more sophisticated than traditional and narrow
form of greenwashing based on the deliberate communication of misleading information (Bowen and AragonCorrea 2014). As highlighted by Bowen and Aragon-Correa (2014, p. 108): ‘‘A challenging new frontier in research
(and practice) is to move beyond limited current conceptions of greenwashing in the academic literature to analyzing symbolic corporate environmentalism.’’
Surprisingly, relatively few studies have investigated the
main determinants of this symbolic corporate environmentalism, particularly in the case of the internalization of
the EMAS standard. Some studies have stressed the role of
internal factors such as the support of managers, the
resources allocated, or the ability to effectively involve
employees (Boiral 2007, 2011; Jiang and Bansal 2003).
Other studies have underlined the role of management
support, internal resources, and capabilities of managers to
improve employee involvement and environmental performance (Dechant and Altman 1994; Chen and Chang
2013).
However, most of these internal factors should theoretically already be covered by certifiable EMSs, as proved by

the new version of ISO 14001: 2015, which now covers the
role of leadership in a specific section. This raises the
questions of the real compliance of certified organizations
and the value of external audits.
The validity and reliability of environmental audits and
certification processes have been criticized in various
studies (Boiral 2007; Dogui et al. 2014; Heras-Saizarbitoria
et al. 2013). However, if the unreliability of certain thirdparty audits explains why certain certified organizations
have superficially implemented their EMS, even if it was
supposed to be compliant with ISO 14001 or EMAS, it
does not explain the reasons for the lack of internalization
of these standards. These reasons could be related to the
type of institutional pressures for EMS adoption and the
strategy adopted by organizations.
Institutional Complexity and Corporate Strategy
Institutional pressures are generally considered as one of
the main motivations behind the adoption of certifiable
EMSs (Castka and Prajogo 2013; Heras-Saizarbitoria et al.
2011, 2013; Schaefer 2007). Firstly, institutional pressure
from government bodies and agencies or from other
stakeholders can encourage the adoption of a certifiable
EMS to promote a self-regulatory approach (King et al.
2005; Potoski and Prakash 2005; Prakash and Potoski
2014). The certification thus seems to prove to the outside

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F. Testa et al.

world that the organization has voluntarily and credibly
committed itself to pursuing continuous environmental
improvement, thereby avoiding or reducing stringent regulatory controls by public bodies. Secondly, market pressures increasingly encourage organizations to adopt
environmental practices and certification standards, particularly in China and India (Christmann and Taylor 2006;
Heras-Saizarbitoria et al. 2011; Wu 2013). This is basically
driven by the impossibility for intermediate clients or end
consumers to acquire direct information on (and therefore
to have a deep knowledge of) the environmental attributes
of a product, a process, or an organization (i.e., a producer).
This then leads to an asymmetric distribution of information. By obtaining the external recognition of compliance
with a standard of excellence such as ISO 14001 and
EMAS, an organization tries to solve this market failure,
providing a signal to the market regarding the reliability of
its environmental commitment (King et al. 2012). Drawing
on the more general concept of corporate social responsibility, Bear et al. (2010) also found that social and environmental virtuous programs are positively related to
corporate reputation and are driven by stakeholders.
Overall, the organizational adaptation to institutional
pressure is at the core of the neo-institutional theory, which
has been widely used to explain the adoption of certifiable
EMSs (Christmann and Taylor 2006; Heras-Saizarbitoria
et al. 2011, 2013; Yin and Schmeidler 2009). According to
this theory, institutional pressures encourage organizations
to adopt similar management structures and practices thus
becoming isomorphic (Di Maggio and Powell 1983;
Greenwood et al. 2014). These structures and practices are
mostly intended to enhance corporate ‘‘legitimacy’’ in the
eyes of various stakeholders, rather than to improve
internal practices (Meyer and Rowan 1977). As a result,
they can be superficially implemented and not well integrated within the organization.
Various studies based on the neo-institutional theory
have highlighted the symbolic adoption of certifiable EMSs
which, in many cases, are used for communication purposes rather than to really improve environmental performance (Boiral 2007; Christmann and Taylor 2006; Yin and
Schmeidler 2009). However, it follows that the more
external pressures increase, the more organizations attach
importance to EMSs and tend therefore to substantially
implement environmental practices.
Although it has apparently not been studied in the case
of the EMAS standard, this relationship between external
pressures and EMS internalization has been found in a few
studies on ISO 14001. For example, in their study on ISOcertified firms in China, Christmann and Taylor (2006)
demonstrated that the internalization of the standard and
compliance with its requirements essentially depended on
customer pressures. Guoyou et al. (2012), Fryxell et al.

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(2004), and Heras-Saizarbitoria et al. (2013) also showed
that the intensity of various external pressures such as
regulatory compliance and customer expectations increases
the internalization and benefits of the standard.
Based on these observations, we hypothesize that:
Hypothesis 1 Organizations that endure greater institutional pressures, experience a higher internalization of
EMAS requirements.
Although the intensity of external pressures is expected to
encourage the internalization of the EMS, the nature and
implications of these pressures are not monolithic. As highlighted by the literature on institutional complexity, organizations tend to experience various pressures from different
institutional constituents, which are shaped by specific and
sometimes conflicting logics (Greenwood et al. 2011, 2010;
Pache and Santos 2010; Marano and Kostova 2015; Smets
and Jarzabkowski 2013). As a result, institutional pressures
are not isomorphic and organizations can internalize new
practices and structures very differently depending on their
responses to specific demands, stakeholder expectations, and
institutional logics, that is to say ‘‘the belief systems and
associated practices that predominate in an organizational
field’’ (Scott et al. 2000, p. 170). Competing institutional
logics and expectations can shape the adaptation of organizations to external demands in various fields such as the
health care system, education, and the financial sector (for an
overview, see Greenwood et al. 2011). This organizational
adaptation is not necessarily passive and may be based on
various strategies, including institutional resistance (Greenwood et al. 2011; Oliver 1991, 1992; Pache and Santos 2010;
Westermann-Behaylo et al. 2014). From this perspective, the
superficial versus substantial implementation of EMS
requirements can appear as two different responses to institutional pressures for certification from stakeholders with
diverse expectations and institutional logics. As a result, the
level of internalization of standards such as ISO 14001 and
EMAS does not only depend on the intensity of external
pressures, but also on the stakeholders involved and on their
specific expectations and needs.
Firstly, the heterogeneous adoption of certifiable EMSs
shows that organizations have wide room for maneuver
when adopting standards such as ISO 14001 and EMAS
(Boiral 2007; Kitazawa and Sarkis 2000; Yin and Schmeidler 2009). This flexibility facilitates the adaptation to
various constraints and institutional logics. For example,
the organizational culture, attitudes of managers or
employee commitment are not covered by specific ISO
requirements, which can therefore leave room for a
superficial adoption of the standard (Boiral 2007; Jiang and
Bansal 2003; Qi et al. 2012). Overall, the existence of
conflicting institutional logics that challenge the values and
objectives of the organization tends to result in various


Internalization of Environmental Practices and Institutional Complexity: Can Stakeholders…

resistance strategies to external pressures (Oliver 1991;
Pache and Santos 2010; Westermann-Behaylo et al. 2014).
Secondly, stakeholders may play a different role in
stimulating the adoption of environmental practices (e.g.,
Delmas and Toffel 2008, 2004; Henriques and Sadorsky
1999; Sarkis et al. 2010). For example, Delmas and Toffel
(2008) have shown how the prioritization of different
stakeholders, related to market or non-market pressures,
has led to the adoption of many diverse environmental
practices, including the adoption of ISO 14001. Buysse and
Verbeke (2003) found that managers’ perceptions of
institutional demands from primary and secondary stakeholders influence the development of an environmental
leadership strategy. Overall, because stakeholders have
different objectives and institutional logics, their influence
on environmental practices such as the adoption of EMSs is
not necessarily the same (Delmas and Toffel 2004).
For instance, the local/regional governments and environmental agencies of certain European countries have
implemented various incentives to encourage participation
in the EMAS standard and to promote proactive environmental practices: regulatory reliefs, reduction in the
administrative burden for organizations, grants, etc. (Glachant et al. 2002; Heras-Saizarbitoria et al. 2015). These
incentives do not necessarily have the same impact on the
internalization of the standard, compared for example to
commercial pressures from distant customers who cannot
verify the genuine adoption of an EMS. Based on these
observations, we hypothesize that:
Hypothesis 2 Organizations that endure greater pressures
from public authorities experience a higher internalization
of EMAS requirements.

Hypothesis 4 Organizations that endure greater pressures
from community environmental groups experience a higher
internalization of EMAS requirements.
Capital investors may also have an interest in supporting
the environmental commitment of a firm. For instance, the
implementation of environmental practices can derive from
corporate directives that reflect the environmental awareness
of shareholders (Henriques and Sadorsky 1999). Considering the benefits associated with good environmental performance such as a better corporate reputation (Russo and
Fouts 1997) or increased efficiency (Porter and Van der
Linde 1995), the owners can ask for the implementation of
specific environmental actions in all their firms and facilities.
Similarly, the adoption of an EMS can be positively evaluated by banks and financial institutions during their financial
risks assessment (Ambec and Lanoie 2008). Several international banks (e.g., Credit Suisse, Unicredit, BNP Paribas)
claim that they take into account the environmental profile of
applicants when deciding whether or not to grant a loan and
around 80 international banks have supported ‘‘Equator
Principles’’ i.e., a risk management framework for determining, assessing, and managing environmental and social
risk in projects they finance. This discussion thus led to the
following hypotheses.
Hypothesis 5 Organizations that endure greater pressures
from shareholders experience a higher internalization of
EMAS requirements.
Hypothesis 6 Organizations that endure greater pressures
from banks and financial institutions experience a higher
internalization of EMAS requirements.

Industries and trade associations also play an important
role in spreading information on the most innovative
environmental practices (Delmas and Montes-Sancho
2010). For example, industry associations can help firms to
be better informed of the benefits of EMS adoption and to
better manage the critical steps of the implementation
process (Testa et al. 2012). Additionally, pressures can be
exerted by community environmental groups which have a
strong interest in preserving the local environment and,
therefore, scrutinize a company’s behavior, including its
management of local pollutant dischargers (Henriques and
Sadorsky 1996). This is particularly true in the case of
EMAS which, differently from ISO 14001, requires a
transparent behavior toward neighborhoods by the disclosure of an environmental report (the Environmental Statement). This leads to formulate the following hypotheses.

Supply chain actors can also play a pivotal role in
pushing a firm toward pro-environmental behavior. Customers, above all in a business-to-business market, can
require their suppliers to prove the adoption of an efficient
EMS in order to reduce the environmental risks in their
supply chain (Jiang and Bansal 2003; King et al. 2005). For
instance, one of the market leaders in the automotive sector
such as Renault Nissan requires its suppliers to demonstrate
their adoption of an EMS by providing a copy of the ISO
14001 or EMAS certificate. Similarly, supply chain relationships can stress the adoption of practices for improving
environmental performance along the entire supply chain
in order to a gain competitive advantage by signaling
environmental concern (Testa and Iraldo 2010) or for
ethical issues (e.g., reflecting the values of managers)
(Nawrocka 2008). As such, we formulate the following
hypotheses.

Hypothesis 3 Organizations that endure greater pressures
from industries and trade associations experience a higher
internalization of EMAS requirements.

Hypothesis 7 Organizations that endure greater pressures
from customers experience a higher internalization of
EMAS requirements.

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F. Testa et al.

Hypothesis 8 Organizations that endure greater pressures
from suppliers experience a higher internalization of
EMAS requirements.
Understanding the drivers of an environmental strategy
solely by focusing on external constituents is just seeing
one side of the coin. Drawing on the natural resource-based
view of the firm, various authors have argued that proactive
environmental strategies depend on the internal resources
and capabilities available (Hart 1995; Sharma and Vredenburg 1998, Christmann 2000). The endowment of tangible and intangible assets such as know-how (Russo and
Fouts 1997), corporate culture (Barney 1986), and development or tacit, socially complex or rare capabilities (Hart
1995) determines the ability of corporate strategy to be
really effective. For instance, Post et al. (2014) demonstrated that how a board is made up, for example whether
there are women and independent directors, could enhance
the likelihood of adopting sustainable actions and, consequently, improve corporate environmental performance.
The internalization of certifiable EMSs can also be
influenced by economic aspects and organizational strategies. According to the mainstream literature on environmental management, the adoption of proactive practices in
this area tends to improve corporate effectiveness (e.g.,
Ambec and Lanoie 2008; Hart 1995; Hart and Ahuja 1996;
Porter and van der Linde 1995; Sharma and Vredenburg
1998). Environmental actions often result in various economic benefits such as the reduction in material waste,
energy saving, and more efficient production processes.
Most of these internal benefits cannot be obtained through
a symbolic adoption of a certifiable EMS and therefore
require a substantial integration of environmental practices.
These positive impacts of proactive environmental practices are reflected in various studies on the economic
benefits of certifiable EMSs (Darnall et al. 2008; Russo
2009; Bansal and Hunter 2003). Thus, the win–win relationships between corporate greening and economic/competitive objectives can encourage the internalization of
environmental practices, insofar as these can be used as
tools to reduce costs, introduce innovative practices, and
improve corporate effectiveness.
Likewise, the internalization of certifiable EMSs can
improve quality management practices and vice versa. The
close relationships between pursuing quality and environmental performance have been widely highlighted in the
literature (e.g., Berry and Rondinelli 1998; King and Lenox
2001; Roy et al. 2001, 2013). These relationships are
reflected in the similarities between certification standards
such as ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 (Boiral, 2011; Roy et al.
2013). Certain benefits associated with quality management practices, such as reducing waste, saving materials,
and improving process control, also have positive

123

environmental impacts. Finally, the institutional arrangements of certifiable EMSs and quality standards such as
ISO 9001 are quite similar: attaining organizational legitimacy through external audits, improvement of corporate
image, implementation of a management system based on
the Deming cycle, procedures for the internalization of
similar practices, etc. Overall, the synergies between
quality and environmental management encourage a better
integration of these inter-connected functions and the
development of specific competencies for lean and green
management (King and Lenox 2001; Roy et al. 2001,
2013). An organizational strategy to improve quality
management can thus facilitate the internalization of an
EMS such as the one foreseen by the EMAS standard.
Based on these observations, we hypothesize that:
Hypothesis 9 A cost-saving strategy encourages the
internalization of EMAS requirements.
Hypothesis 10 A product quality-parented strategy
encourages the internalization of EMAS requirements.

Methodology
Sample
Our analysis used primary data from a questionnaire survey
conducted among EMAS-registered private companies
located in all EU member states. The data were collected
from September 2012 to March 2013 by an online questionnaire. The questionnaire was designed to take into
account the potential problems of common method variance that can affect behavioral research. Several procedural
remedies were adopted. As many researchers have highlighted, one possible bias is social desirability (King and
Bruner 2000; Tourangeau and Yan 2007). Consequently,
the anonymity of respondents was guaranteed by avoiding
any request for the name of either the respondent or the
organization. The letter of invitation specified that the data
would only be revealed in an aggregated form and
anonymously.
Since studies have shown that question formulation can
alter the results by as much as 50 % (Cannell et al. 1989), a
pre-test was carried out with five organizations in order to
identify poorly phrased questions or those that might lead
to biased answers. Since the questionnaire concerned the
adoption of an EMS and its drivers and benefits, in the pretest five ISO 14001- certified companies (four Italian and
one Spanish operating in the waste management, pulp and
paper, and construction sectors) were interviewed and the
questionnaire was filled in alongside trained researchers
who took notes regarding any doubts, misunderstandings,


Internalization of Environmental Practices and Institutional Complexity: Can Stakeholders…

and remarks. ISO 14001 rather than EMAS-registered
companies were chosen due to their knowledge regarding
the topic of the questionnaire and given that they would not
be actually taking part in the survey. Based on the pre-tests,
the survey was revised accordingly.
The submission process was as follows: first, we found
the email addresses of the environmental managers in all
3936 EMAS adopter organizations from the official EMAS
register. We uploaded the questionnaire onto a web platform and emailed managers with a link to access the
questionnaire and with detailed instructions on how to
complete the questionnaire. Next, we sent a reminder email
every 15–20 days. The survey was also supported by the
European Commission and other key stakeholders, who
published the link to the questionnaire on their websites
(see Fig. 2).
It was decided to submit the questionnaire to the environmental department as it usually has the most relevant
information on the specific environmental practices and
procedures being carried out in an organization and
because it has direct access to documentation concerning
environmental issues. 243 surveys were returned, corresponding to a response rate of 6.1 %. This rate can be
interpreted as positive if we consider that it was calculated
with reference to the whole statistical population and not to
a random sample. It is also comparable with other surveys
on the same topic (see for instance Yin and Schmeidler
2009). Due to missing information and inadequate

responses, a total of 232 questionnaires were utilized (final
response rate 5.9 %).
Considering the relatively large non-response rate, we
analyzed sample selection bias by performing a Heckman
sample selection procedure assuming that the control
variables explain the respondents’ decision whether or not
to answer (see Davidson and McKinnon 2004). Since the
coefficient of the inverse Mills ratio is not significant, we
can affirm that selectivity might not be a problem
(p value = 0.689). Finally, the representativeness of the
sample was checked against the general characteristics of
the population, such as organization size and geographical
distribution. We found that the sizes of the organizations
tended to be similar, and there were more organizations
from Mediterranean countries than from central Europe
compared to the population of all the organizations in the
EMAS register (Table 2).
The low response rate was mainly due to the limited
participation from organizations located in two frontrunner
countries, Germany and Spain. The submission of the
questionnaire in English and the execution of a similar
survey carried out by the German EMAS competent body
in the same period1 could have discouraged German
companies from responding. The low response rate of
Spanish organizations is in line with lower response rates
in previous surveys on EMSs in Spanish firms (e.g., del
Brı´o et al. 2001). Therefore, although a sample selection
bias had statistically been avoided, the low response rate
should be taken into consideration in the analysis of the
results.
Measures
Internalization of EMS Requirements
Unlike similar research carried out in the literature, we
used a more comprehensive approach to measure the level
of internalization of EMS requirements. Some authors have
focused on specific elements of the EMS structure, such as
the involvement of managers and employees or a reference
to a generic integration of the requirement in daily routines
(Guoyou et al. 2012; Yin and Schmeidler 2009), whereas
we measured the level of internalization of EMS requirements using 12 questions based on the four pillars of the
Deming Cycle. Following the approach of research on the
adoption of health and safety management systems (Ferna´ndez-Mun˜iz et al. 2007, 2009), we identified measurement instruments that reflected previous studies that have
investigated a firm’s environmental corporate social
1

Fig. 2 Steps of survey’s design

That survey is available ta http://www.emas.de/fileadmin/user_
upload/06_service/PDF-Dateien/EMAS_in_Germany_Evaluation_
2012.pdf.

123


F. Testa et al.
Table 2 Survey sample versus all registration holders
Organization size

Geographical distribution

Small (%)

Medium (%)

Large (%)

Southern
Europe (%)

Western/Central
Europe (%)

Eastern
Europe (%)

Northern
Europe (%)

EMAS population

53

28

19

54

42

2

2

Sample

50

27

23

68

24

4

4

responsibility. (Clarkson et al. 2008; Rahman and Post
2012).
We identified four main actions that an organization
needs to take to truly implement an effective EMS:





planning,
operational activities,
training and employee involvement,
check and review actions.

The level of internalization of each tile was measured by
three specific items with a 5-point Likert scale indicating
the level of implementation of each action (from 1: not
implemented; to 5: good implementation of the initiatives
and positive evaluation of their effectiveness). For each
EMS pillar, a single factor was obtained by merging the
corresponding items and Cronbach’s Alpha test was used to
check its reliability. In order to have a comprehensive
measure of EMS internalization, all items were also
aggregated into a single factor. Table 3 provides details on
all 12 items and on the results of the factor analysis.

knowledge, intangible resources) is necessary to support
corporate greening and, consequently, improve organizational effectiveness (Darnall and Edwards 2006; Hart 1995;
Sharma and Vredenburg 1998). Overall, the success of
corporate strategies requires a combination of specific
resources embedded in organizational practices, culture,
and relationships with stakeholders (Christmann 2000;
Wong et al. 2012). These resources can improve both
economic performance and the internalization of proactive
environmental practices (Aragon-Correa and Sharma 2003;
Russo and Fouts 1997; Schaltegger et al. 2012). In order to
measure the extent to which organizational strategy focuses
on cost savings or on quality management, and the influence of this strategy on the internalization of EMS practices, we used the answers to the following question: Which
of the following competitive factors do you use to enhance
your most important product on the market?
Respondents replied using a three-point scale, indicating
whether firm strategy focused on cost savings or quality
management was ‘‘not important,’’ ‘‘moderately important,’’ or ‘‘very important.’’

Stakeholder Pressures
Control Variables
As mentioned above, a large body of literature has investigated the effect of stakeholders on a firm’s environmental
commitment. Based on this previous research, we focused
on the following stakeholders: public authorities (Gusmerotti et al. 2012; Heras-Saizarbitoria et al. 2015);
industry and trade associations (Testa et al. 2012); customers (King et al. 2005; Christmann and Taylor 2006);
suppliers (Testa and Iraldo 2010); shareholders (Henriques
and Sadorsky 1999); banks and financial institutions
(Ambec and Lanoie 2008); and community environmental
groups (Henriques and Sadorsky 1996). Following Darnall
et al. (2010), we asked to managers to indicate the level of
importance of each stakeholder on organization’s decision
to adopt environmental actions. Managers replied using a
3-point Likert scale: ‘‘not important,’’ ‘‘moderately
important,’’ or ‘‘very important.’’
Organizational Strategies
According to the resource-based view of the firm, the
development of complex capabilities (know-how, tacit

123

In order to capture the influence of other factors on the
level of internalization of EMS requirements, we constructed a set of control variables.
Size: A small organization often suffers from a lack of
human and financial resources, which limits its ability to
internalize some of the specific requirements of EMSs
(Darnall et al. 2010). We thus controlled for an organization’s size in terms of the number of employees.
Market Scope: The geographical dimension of the
competitive arena can also affect how and the extent to
which environmental practices are adopted (Nakamura
et al. 2001). We thus included categorical variables to
control the spatial scope of the market in which an organization competes, assigning 1 if the organization’s market
was at a local level, 2 national, 3 European, and 4 global.
Economic Performance: Since the integration of EMS
requirements in daily routines involves costs in term of
human and financial resources, it may be influenced by the
economic position of a company. In order to control for the
degree of market success, following Darnall et al. (2008),


Internalization of Environmental Practices and Institutional Complexity: Can Stakeholders…
Table 3 Level of internalization of EMS requirement
EMS Pillar

Item

Factor loading
comprehensive factor

Factor loading
EMS pillar factor

Planning
The environmental policy was disseminated effectively to all employees

0.799

0.871

Based on the policy, management established measurable objectives and targets related to the
environment
There are actions aimed at gathering opinions and suggestions from employees regarding the
environment

0.806

0.901

0.618

0.803

Cronbach’s alpha planning factor

0.797

Training and employee involvement
Employees are offered incentives to implement the principles and procedures related to
environmental protection

0.579

0.676

Project teams from different company departments are in charge of solving specific environmental
issues

0.584

0.829

There is a formalized system to detect any training needs in the environmental field

0.643

0.806

Cronbach’s alpha planning factor

0.652

Operational activities
There are specific operating instructions for the management of environmental issues (e.g.,
management of a temporary waste site, emissions into the atmosphere)

0.832

0.896

The company has identified one or more procedures to detect and deal with potential emergency
situations
Emergency response procedures are periodically re-examined and updated when necessary,
especially after scheduled checks or after emergency situations

0.779

0.910

0.806

0.882

Cronbach’s alpha operations factor

0.877

Monitoring and checking
There are formal systems to measure performance in order to detect to what extent targets have
been reached

0.815

0.889

The organization has implemented actions to register and investigate non-compliance and
preventive actions

0.839

0.939

Internal verifications (audits) are scheduled, aimed at verifying the correct implementation of
instructions/procedures and the compliance with applicable legal requirements related to the
environment

0.816

0.921

Cronbach’s alpha monitoring factor
Cronbach’s alpha comprehensive factor

0.902
0.883

Extraction method was principal component analysis

we asked environmental managers to evaluate the economic performance of their organization over the last three
years, by using a 5-point Likert scale (from 1: revenue was
‘‘so low as to produce large losses’’ to 5: revenue was
‘‘well in excess of costs’’).
Sector: In order to take into account the external context
and its potential effect on firm decision-making, we also
considered the operations sector (Testa et al. 2014) by
including a dummy variable if the company operated in the
manufacturing sector. Table 4 provides descriptive statistics on the variables.
Empirics
We used ordinary least squares (OLS) regression with robust
standard errors to evaluate the determinants of the

internalization of EMS requirements. The first model contains only the control variables (a categorical variable to
control for economic performance, a dummy variable for the
manufacturing sector and organization size). The second
model includes variables for institutional pressures and the
control variables. The third model incorporates variables for
both institutional pressures and competitive strategies and
the control variables. Then, we performed four further
models in order to check the effects of our explanatory
variables on the different pillars of EMS implementation. In
these models, the dependent variable is the level of implementation of: planning activities (Model 4), operational
activities (Model 5), actions for training and employee
involvement (Model 6), check and review actions (Model 7).
In order to verify the robustness of our results, for all
models, we checked the normality of residuals. This is

123


F. Testa et al.

required for valid hypothesis testing and is achieved by
plotting the non-parametric Kernel density estimator (Fan
and Gencay 1995), which reveals the symmetry of residual
distribution. We then checked the collinearity by computing the tolerance and variance inflationary factors (VIFs)
for all variables. Low variance inflation factors (\2.0) and
a VIF less than 5 revealed that multicollinearity was not
present (O’Brien 2007).
Finally, we performed Harman’s one-factor test to check
for the presence of common method variance. This method
entails entering all the variables into an exploratory factor
analysis. If only a single factor emerges or it accounts for
the majority of covariance, it indicates that a substantial
amount of common method variance is present (Steensma
et al. 2005). The results showed at least five distinct factors
with an eigenvalue greater than 1.0 and the largest factor
accounted for approximately 18 % of the variance.

Results
Table 5 shows the robust regression results regarding the
internalization of EMS requirements. Model 1 includes
control variables alone, Model 2 adds institutional pressures, and Model 3 shows the complete model including
strategic motivations. These three models support
Hypothesis 1, suggesting that, for most stakeholders, the
coefficient is positive and statistically significant. Focusing
on the stakeholder category, the models offer interesting
and surprising findings. In contrast with previous studies
(Henriques and Sadorsky 1996; Glachant et al. 2002;
Heras-Saizarbitoria et al. 2015), public authorities and
community environmental groups do not exert sufficient
pressure to push managers to increase efforts in integrating
EMS in strategic and operational activities. Thus,
Hypothesis 2 and 4 were not supported.
Suppliers, shareholders, banks, and other financial
institutions, exert a positive influence on EMAS adopters
leading them to fully integrate the requirements in firms’
routines and habits (coefficients vary from 0.16 to 0.23).
Hypothesis 5, 6, and 8 were, therefore, supported by our
model.
Pressures from customers and industrial associations
have, surprisingly, no effect on the decision of an organization to fully implement EMS requirements. Both coefficients (-0.26 and -0.16) are negative and statistically
significant, respectively at 1 and 10 %. These findings
inversely support Hypothesis 3 and 8, which states that
these stakeholders have a positive effect on the decision of
an organization to internalize EMS requirements. This
means that the pressures from customers and industrial
associations are satisfied by the adoption of the official

123

recognition of registration alone, thus generating superficial behaviors by organizations.
Regarding the effect of strategic motivations on the full
implementation of EMS, our findings support Hypothesis 9
but not 10. The estimated coefficient of the cost savings
strategy variable is not significant, while the coefficient of
the variable measuring the adoption of a product qualityoriented strategy is positive and statistically significant.
Focusing on control variables, the empirical model
confirms that a full implementation of EMAS requires
efforts that a positive economic position of a company can
facilitate to sustain (Table 6 summarizes the results compared to the study’s hypotheses).
Models 4, 5, 6, and 7 include the control and explanatory variables to assess their effects on the implementation
of the various EMAS pillars. Although the results highlight
the reliability of the previous considerations on the factors
influencing EMAS internalization, they reveal further
interesting information (see Table 7). Pressures from suppliers and shareholders have a stronger influence on the
implementation of training, operational, and monitoring
actions, while they do not encourage the full adoption of
planning activities. Pressure from banks and financial
institutions has a positive influence on all EMAS pillars.
Pressure from customers has a negative influence on all
pillars except on training, where the estimated coefficient is
not significant. Similarly, pressures from industrial associations negatively influence all pillars, although some
coefficients are weakly significant.
Unlike the combined model, Model 6 shows that the
estimated coefficient of pressure from public authorities is
positive and significant at 95 %. The influence of public
authorities on operational activities mainly derives from
inspection activities carried out by the competent authorities as well as from references to EMS in the requirements
included in an environmental permit.

Discussion and Conclusions
The main objective of this paper was to analyze the
influence of institutional pressures and corporate strategy
in the internalization of environmental management practices related to EMAS requirements. The findings show
that, overall, pressures from stakeholders positively influence the internalization of proactive environmental practices, such as employee training, measurement of
environmental performances, and internal audits. Since
these practices are generally associated with an improvement in environmental performance (Arago´n-Correa and
Rubio-Lopez 2007; Berry and Rondinelli 1998; Buysse and
Verbeke 2003; Henriques and Sadorsky 1996), external


0.16 **
0.10
0.0124
0.23***
-2.09
1
-5.52
0.99
236

Number of employees (logarithm)

Market scope (local, national, European,
international)

Manufacturing sector

Economic performance

Mean

Standard Deviation
Min

Max

N

243

3

0.83
1

2.04

-0.09

-0.25***

-0.16**

-0.11*

-0.18***

0.02

0.27***

0.26***

0.20***

0.22***

0.25***

0.13**



(2)

*, **, And *** indicate the significance at 10, 5, and 1 %, respectively

0.01

0.08

Influence of community groups on environmental
practices
0.14 **

0.06

Influence of industrial associations on
environmental practices

Quality as a competitive factor

0.12*

Influence of banks and other of financial
institutions on environmental practices

Price as a competitive factor

0.0722
0.14**

Influence of customers on environmental practices

Influence of shareholders on environmental
practices

-0.03

Influence of public authorities on environmental
practices

Influence of suppliers on environmental practices


0.03

Level of internalization

(1)

Table 4 Correlation matrix and descriptive statistics

243

3

0.84
1

1.71

-0.09

-0.07

0.03

-0.22***

0.07

0.03

0.39***

0.17***

0.22***

0.27***

0.39***



(3)

243

3

0.68
1

1.47

-0.10*

-0.06

-0.03

0.04

0.05

0.02

0.21***

0.42***

0.31***

0.25***



(4)

243

3

0.83
1

1.60

0.01

-0.08

0.12*

0.07

0.03

0.02

0.35***

0.25***

0.41***



(5)

243

3

0.63
1

1.35

0.03

-0.01

0.07

0.10*

0.05

0.14**

0.36***

0.32***



(6)

243

3

0.70
1

1.51

0.01

-0.01

0.01

0.03

0.05

0.05

0.40***



(7)

243

3

0.79
1

1.68

-0.05

-0.07

-0.02

0.04

-0.04

0.03



(8)

242

3

0.59
1

2.58

-0.03

0.03

0.08

0.07

0.08



(9)

242

3

0.63
1

2.77

-0.01

0.17***

0.17***

0.23***



(10)

243

11.4

1.93
0

4.33

0.10

0.18***

0.49***



(11)

243

4

1.11
1

2.52

0.10

0.42***



(12)

243

1

0.49
0

0.45

0.06



(13)

240

5

1.03
1

3.57



(14)

Internalization of Environmental Practices and Institutional Complexity: Can Stakeholders…

123


F. Testa et al.
Table 5 Predicting internalization of EMS requirements
Independent variables

Internalization of EMS requirements
Model 1
Coefficient

Model 2
Standard
Error

Influence of public authorities on environmental practices

Coefficient
0.075

Influence of customers on environmental practices

-0.246***

Model 3
Standard
Error
0.086
0.096

Coefficient
0.114
-0.261***

Standard
Error
0.091
0.097

Influence of suppliers on environmental practices

0.233**

0.128

0.212**

0.127

Influence of shareholders on environmental practices

0.166**

0.074

0.158**

0.0743

Influence of banks and other of financial institutions on
environmental practices

0.205**

0.089

0.201**

0.088

Influence of industrial associations on environmental practices

-0.139*

0.109

-0.163*

0.104

Influence of community groups on environmental practices

-0.037

0.107

-0.012

0.096

-0.075

0.105

Price as a competitive factor
Quality as a competitive factor
Number of employees (logarithm)
Market scope (local, national, European, international)

0.323
0.058

0.038
0.076

Manufacturing sector

-0.078

0.146

Economic performance

0.153**

0.060
0.287

Constant

-0.796***

F test

**

R2

0.0409

0.066*
0.012
-0.020

0.037
0.070
0.150

0.159***

0.054

-1.228***

0.342

***
0.1226

0.349**

0.197

0.053*
0.005

0.037
0.068

-0.058

0.151

0.166***

0.054

-1.945***

0.621

***
0.1531

Number of observations: 232
Heteroskedasticity-robust standard errors are shown
*, **, And *** indicate the significance at 10, 5, and 1 %, respectively

Table 6 Summary of the study’s results
Hypothesis 1

Organizations that endure greater institutional pressures, experience a higher internalization
of EMAS requirements

Supported

Hypothesis 2

Organizations that endure greater pressures from public authorities experience a higher
internalization of EMAS requirements

Not supported

Hypothesis 3

Organizations that endure greater pressures from industries and trade association experience
a higher internalization of EMAS requirements
Organizations that endure greater pressures from community environmental groups
experience a higher internalization of EMAS requirements

Inversely supported

Hypothesis 4

Not supported

Hypothesis 5

Organizations that endure greater pressures from shareholders experience a higher
internalization of EMAS requirements

Supported

Hypothesis 6

Organizations that endure greater pressures from banks and financial institutions experience
a higher internalization of EMAS requirements
Organizations that endure greater pressures from customers experience a higher
internalization of EMAS requirements

Supported

Hypothesis 7

Inversely supported

Hypothesis 8

Organizations that endure greater pressures from suppliers experience a higher
internalization of EMAS requirements

Hypothesis 9

A cost-saving strategy encourages the internalization of EMAS requirements

Not supported

Hypothesis 10

A product quality-parented strategy encourages the internalization of EMAS requirements

Supported

pressures would appear to have a positive influence on
corporate greening.
However, the study also showed that the various
stakeholders behind these pressures can play very different

123

Supported

roles. Shareholders, suppliers, banks, and other financial
institutions have a positive influence on the internalization
of the EMAS requirements. Conversely, customers and
industrial associations have a negative impact on EMAS


Internalization of Environmental Practices and Institutional Complexity: Can Stakeholders…
Table 7 Predicting internalization of different pillars of EMS requirements

Influence of public authorities

Model 1 internalization
of requirements on
planning

Model 2 internalization
of requirements on
training and employee
involvement

Model 3 internalization
of requirements on
operational activities

Model 4 internalization
of requirements on
monitoring and
checking

Coefficient

Coefficient

Coefficient

Coefficient

Standard
error

Standard
error

Standard
error

Standard
error

0.043

0.088

-0.024

0.082

0.208**

0.092

0.084

0.095

Influence of customers

-0.231**

0.099

-0.005

0.080

-0.293***

0.104

-0.197**

0.101

Influence of suppliers

0.090

0.130

0.224**

0.108

0.189**

0.128

0.176**

0.119

Influence of shareholders

0.037

0.078

0.159**

0.081

0.180***

0.082

0.137**

0.071

Influence of banks

0.194**

0.103

0.168**

0.109

0.118**

0.104

0.194**

0.084

Influence of industrial associations
Influence of community groups
Price as a competitive factor
Quality as a competitive factor
Number of employees (logarithm)
Market scope (local, national,
European, international)
Manufacturing sector

-0.052*
0.083

0.108
0.101

-0.110*
-0.039

0.105
0.099

-0.078*
-0.046

0.105
0.104

-0.241**
-0.043

0.104
0.095

-.144*

0.111

-0.068

0.104

-0.022

0.105

-0.022

0.107

0.193

0.330***

0.141

0.228**

0.102

0.274**

0.101

-0.004

0.417**

0.043

0.102***

0.039

0.041

0.038

0.060*

0.035

0.028

0.078

0.038

0.074

-0.031

0.065

-0.001
-0.087

0.162

0.288**

0.144

0.091

0.147

0.117***

0.058

0.170***

0.058

0.160***

0.059

Constant

-1.449***

0.678

-2.283***

0.535

F test

***

Economic performance

R2

-0.056

***

0.1060

-1.74***
***

0.2039

0.1409

0.605

0.068
0.156

0.115***

0.053

-1.469***

0.630

***
0.1130

Number of observations: 232
Heteroskedasticity-robust standard errors are shown
*, **, And *** indicate the significance at 10, 5, and 1 %, respectively

internalization. Drawing on neo-institutional and institutional complexity theories (Westermann-Behaylo et al.
2014; Greenwood et al. 2011; Pache and Santos 2010;
Boiral 2007; Yin and Schmeidler 2009), these differences
in the impacts of external pressures on EMAS internalization can be explained by the specific practices and belief
systems associated with various stakeholders. The expectations, values and goals of stakeholders with regard to the
adoption of certifiable EMSs can be very different. As a
result, various measures can be implemented by organizations to improve their legitimacy, including in terms of
EMS internalization or greenwashing. Moreover, the
stakeholder knowledge of corporate commitment to the
environment and EMS internalization is variable. Few
studies have shown that the visibility or opacity of corporate environmental issues significantly influence the
implementation and effectiveness of ISO 14001 (Bansal
and Bogner 2002; Potoski and Prakash 2013). In this perspective, the more environmental practices are visible and
in line with the values and expectations of a specific
stakeholder, the more it tends to positively influence the

internalization of certifiable EMSs such as the EMAS
standard.
The positive impact of shareholder pressures can be
explained by their ability to access relevant information on
corporate environmental commitment and performance in
this area. In addition, shareholders may encourage managers to demonstrate their accountability in terms of sustainability through the internalization of certifiable EMSs,
which are expected to improve economic performance and
enhance corporate image (Bansal and Hunter 2003; Darnall
et al. 2008; Russo 2009). The same applies to financial
institutions, which attach increasing importance to the
control of environmental risks and improvement of environmental performance (Ambec and Lanoie 2008). The
positive impact of suppliers can be explained by the
increasing interdependence between the greening of supply
chain management and the internalization of EMS
(Nawrocka 2008; Testa and Iraldo 2010). For example,
suppliers can facilitate the use of greener raw materials and
facilitate the achievement of EMAS objectives related to
resources consumption.

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F. Testa et al.

Although the negative influence of customer pressures
seems to contradict several studies on their role in the
implementation of EMS (Christmann and Taylor 2006;
Fryxell et al. 2004; Guoyou et al. 2012), it can be explained
by their lack of information on real environmental practices
and the commercial use of the EMAS standard. Given the
globalization of economies, today’s market pressures come
from increasingly distant customers, who tend to perceive
certifiable EMS as a sort of ‘‘commercial certificate’’ rather
than a tool to improve environmental practices. These
customers are not able to verify the internalization of EMS
in a direct way (e.g., through inspections or audits), so they
tend to trust and rely on the existence of certificates such as
EMAS and ISO 14001, more than being interested in how
they are applied. Finally, the negative role of pressures
from industrial associations was unexpected and may be
due to their lack of involvement in the implementation of
the EMAS standard. Moreover, the values of these associations are not necessarily in line with those of corporate
greening and some associations can even lobby to limit or
counteract environmental pressures (Van Halderen et al.
2014; Gray and Milne 2002).
These findings show that institutional pressures are not
monolithic and need to be analyzed in relation to the different stakeholders involved. The study also shows the role
of generic corporate strategy on the integration of a certifiable EMS. As expected, a product quality strategy
encourages the internalization of EMAS requirements. This
finding is in line with the literature on the interconnection
between environmental and quality management (Berry
and Rondinelli 1998; King and Lenox 2001; Roy et al.
2001, 2013). However, a cost-saving strategy has no significant impact on this internalization. This negative role
can be explained by the perception of managers concerning
the relationships between environmental initiatives and
economic performance. Contrary to the mainstream literature on environmental management (Darnall and Edwards
2006; Darnall et al. 2008; Hart 1995; Sharma and Vredenburg 1998; Russo 2009), many managers are not convinced by this optimistic relationship. The difficult
economic situation of many European regions at the time
of the study may have strengthened the perception that the
internalization of EMS is not a priority and could even
represent a threat to cost-reduction efforts.
Contributions to the Literature
The study contributes to the literature in several ways.
Firstly, the study contributes to the literature in terms of
the neo-institutional approaches of environmental management (Boiral 2007; Christmann and Taylor 2006;
Heras-Saizarbitoria et al. 2011, 2013; Yin and Schmeidler
2009) by shedding further light on the complexity and

123

diversity of the external pressures to adopt and internalize
certifiable EMSs. These different implications suggest that
institutional pressures are not isomorphic but follow different logics which companies need to adapt in different
ways. Depending on the stakeholders involved, this adaptation encourages a substantial or a symbolic implementation of environmental practices.
To our knowledge, institutional complexity theory has
not been used to explain the heterogeneous internalization
of certifiable EMSs. The use of this theory helps bridge the
gap between the neo-institutional approach of EMS, which
is based on the substantial vs ceremonial adaptation to
external pressures to increase corporate legitimacy, and the
stakeholder theory, which is focused on the management of
relationships with different stakeholders (Buysse and
Verbeke 2003; Delmas 2001; Henriques and Sadorsky
1999). Although the study does not provide specific
information on the nature of these relationships, it shows
that the level of internalization of environmental practices
depends on the influence of the specific stakeholders.
Secondly, the study contributes to the literature on
greenwashing and to the call of Bowen and Aragon-Correa
(2014) for more research on symbolic corporate environmentalism and greenwashing. This symbolic environmentalism is reflected in the superficial adoption of certifiable
EMS. Paradoxically, the main objective of the certification
process is to increase the credibility of EMSs and
strengthen their substantial implementation (Darnall 2006;
Prakash and Potoski 2014; Potoski and Prakash 2005).
According to the critical literature on external auditing,
certification practices do not necessarily guarantee the
compliance of organizations with certifiable standards and
the internalization of the EMS in daily activities (Boiral
2007; Dogui et al. 2014; Heras-Saizarbitoria et al. 2013).
The heterogeneous adoption of the EMAS standard
observed in our study confirms that the certification process
is not sufficient in itself to guarantee the substantial
implementation of environmental management practices,
and may even be used as a tool for greenwashing. This
greenwashing depends on the gap between the green and
rigorous image conveyed by EMSs such as EMAS, and the
lack of real internalization of environmental practices
within certain organizations. In addition, this gap can vary
considerably despite the monolithic and isomorphic
appearance of EMAS-related practices.
Thirdly, the study contributes to the literature on the
economic impacts of environmental practices. The absence
of significant relationships between the pursuit of costsaving strategies and EMS internalization tends to question
the dominant win–win view of the environmental-economic relationships (Ambec and Lanoie 2008; Darnall
et al. 2008; Roy et al. 2001; Russo 2009). The findings of
our study suggest that the environmental practices


Internalization of Environmental Practices and Institutional Complexity: Can Stakeholders…

proposed by the EMAS standard tend to be perceived as a
source of costs rather than economies. As a result, costsaving efforts do not encourage a substantial internalization
of this standard. This finding gives credence to the more
critical approaches on the economic impacts of environmental practices (e.g., Darnall and Edwards 2006; Drake
et al. 2004). The positive links between strategies for
product quality and EMAS internalization suggest that this
standard is better suited to organizations focused on quality
management practices. The resources and capabilities
underlying quality management practices and their relationships with the competences associated with environmental management (Berry and Rondinelli 1998; King and
Lenox 2001; Roy et al. 2001, 2013) could explain this
positive relationship.
Managerial Implications and Avenues for Future
Research
The results have managerial implications for both managers
and policy makers. Many managers tend to use certifiable
EMSs as a marketing tool rather than a set of practices to
improve environmental performance, while the environmental benefits of EMS largely depend on their internalization in daily activities. Our findings highlight that this
internalization needs to be strengthened in many organizations. In addition, since the pressures from suppliers, shareholders, banks, and other financial institutions can contribute
to the substantial adoption of the EMAS standard, the role of
these stakeholders could be strengthened.
Managers should be more aware that certain stakeholders are more sensitive than others toward a substantial
implementation of an EMS. The strong managerial implication of this awareness is that in order to obtain the best
results, the ‘‘contact’’ strategies and the engagement with
the various stakeholders can be differentiated. Shareholders
and banks/financial institutions, for example, should be
considered as primary ‘‘interlocutors’’ of the EMS: an
exhaustive and continuous flow of information should be
provided to reassure them regarding the real and concrete
applications of the standard. Suppliers should be targeted
with co-operative strategies and should be directly
involved in the EMS implementation, since this is one of
their main (implicit or explicit) expectations. Customers
should be informed and be ‘‘educated’’ on the importance
of a non-formal application of an EMS. Managers should
aim to increase the awareness of customers regarding the
guarantees that e.g., ISO or EMAS can provide that their
requirements, and the associated environmental management practices, are applied appropriately and effectively in
the daily activities.
On the other hand, the various stakeholders should be
incentivized to develop expectations and make more

explicit requests concerning the substantial implementation
of an EMS. For example, decision-makers from the banking system, concerned about their clients’ reduction of
environmental risks, could put more pressure on the substantial adoption of certifiable EMS. The same applies to
shareholders who should encourage the environmental
accountability of managers through the adoption of EMSs.
Policy makers should also encourage the internalization
of environmental practices. Although governmental agencies play an important part in the dissemination of the
EMAS standard in Europe (Glachant et al. 2002; HerasSaizarbitoria et al. 2015), they do not necessarily consider
how this type of standard is implemented within organizations. This could explain why our results show that the
internalization of EMAS requirements do not depend on
greater pressures from public authorities. In this perspective, governmental aid and subsidies should not only be
based on the acquisition of the EMAS or ISO 14001 certificates, but also take into account their results and be
conditional on the demonstration of their effective internalization. This also applies to the certification process of
the EMAS standard, which should be focused on the outcomes of the standard rather than its procedural conformity. Such focus could be encouraged in the next revision
of the EMAS standard by the European Commission.
Overall, the strictness of the certification process and the
training of external auditors could be strengthened in order
to encourage the development of more substantial environmental practices and verify the improvement in environmental performance. Similarly, industrial associations
should be more involved in the substantial and effective
adoption of EMAS, providing their member-companies
with incentives to empower the real internalization of the
key requirements.
Further research is needed to better understand the drivers and barriers to EMS internalization. The limitations of
this study can help to identify directions that future
research of this topic could take. First, while not covered
by our study, the values, personal attitudes, and sociodemographic characteristics of managers can play a key role
in the internalization of environmental practices (Bansal
2003; Boiral 2007, 2011; Jiang and Bansal 2003). For
example, as highlighted by Post et al. (2014), the composition of the board, in particular the representation of
women, can influence sustainability commitment. Future
research could investigate how the external pressures from
stakeholders can be interpreted and translated into action
by managers according to their personal values, ethics, sex,
and contextual factors. In addition, following Chen and
Chang’s approach regarding the determinants of green
product development performance (2013b), leadership
could be investigated in terms of how it might foster the
internalization of EMS.

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F. Testa et al.

More generally, the specific nature of these pressures
could also be studied. Because of its quantitative approach,
the present study has mostly focused on the measurement
of pressures from various stakeholders. The reasons behind
these pressures and their practical manifestation could be
detailed in order to analyze why certain stakeholders exert
more influence than others on the internalization process.
To further investigate the role of external pressures on
environmental practices, qualitative interviews among
managers and representatives of the main stakeholders
could be used. Such interviews could also shed further light
on the institutional complexity underlying the adoption of
environmental practices and how the sometimes conflicting
demands from multiple stakeholders embedded in different
institutional logics are managed, in practical terms, within
the organization.

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