Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 140, Issue 3, pp 495–522 | Cite as

Classification of Trade-offs Encountered in the Practice of Corporate Sustainability



Trade-offs between the conflicting aspects of corporate sustainability (CS) have hindered the realization of win–win opportunities that advance both sustainable development and the bottom line. The question today is no longer whether these trade-offs are encountered in the pursuit of CS, but under which circumstances they occur, with which responses, and how best to navigate them. This study conducted a systematic review and content analysis of the trade-off literature published to-date at both conceptual and applied levels. Through this process, a hierarchical framework is proposed for the analysis of trade-offs based on their different categories, their root tensions, their interconnections, and where they are encountered in the practice of CS, from policy to implementation. Based on this, a number of recommendations are provided on how managers may better navigate the hierarchy of trade-off decision-making, to ultimately transform trade-offs into synergies. Several suggestions for future trade-off research are also provided.


Corporate sustainability Resource-based view Synergy Tension Trade-off Triple-bottom-line Win–win 



Corporate sustainability


Corporate social responsibility


Environmental performance


Social performance


Financial performance


Environmental/social/financial performance


Product development


Global reporting initiative


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Applied Science & Management ProgramRyerson UniversityTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of Mechanical & Industrial EngineeringRyerson UniversityTorontoCanada

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