PhD Oral Exam - Guillaume Pain, Business Administration
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
Environmental science draws public and scholarly attention to the disquieting deterioration of the global ecosystem and its impacts on human activities. Environment and management researchers have been looking at the role of business organizations in this phenomenon, both as contributors to degradation and as leaders in restoration, thus bringing forth the issue of corporate environmental performance (CEP). Research on the antecedents of CEP has examined a variety of internal and external predictors, but has surprisingly overlooked strategic schemas, which are often implied in this research and recognized as prompters for social and environmental actions. Management research needs further exploration of strategic schemas and lacks a framework that relates schemas to corporate environmental performance. The three papers in this doctoral thesis attempt to fill these gaps. The first paper proposes an interpretive framework on CEP that integrates literatures on schemas and sustainability. This framework offers an original view of schema interaction and evolution, where schema interaction models traditionally understood as discrete are shown to be interrelated. The framework also provides an explanation for business organizations’ limited success in addressing global environmental issues. The second paper validates part of the framework by testing a set of relationships between schemas, organizational actions, and CEP. Combining content analysis with quantification techniques, this paper finds that although firms gather information and learn about natural environmental issues, they fail to translate their knowledge into appropriate actions. Perhaps as a result, corporate environmental initiatives correlate with a deterioration of CEP. The third paper employs cognitive mapping to examine the discourse on sustainability produced by an international trade association and four member companies over a period of eleven years. This study reveals that disclosed schemas change through two fundamental mechanisms of growth and reduction which can be used to explain all schema evolution. It also unveils the existence of two distinct types of schema content: core and peripheral content. Although schemas tend to grow incrementally, peripheral content undergoes frequent growth and reduction, while core content grows and shapes the meaning attributed to newer content. Larger companies use the trade association as a vector to disseminate their schemas on sustainability and influence the schemas of smaller firms and possibly of the industry as whole by adopting and promoting new sustainability practices early. Together, these three papers provide an original and testable framework to understand CEP from a cognitive perspective, qualify the relationship between strategic schemas and CEP, and reveal underlying mechanisms of schema evolution.