Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 158, Issue 1, pp 135–154 | Cite as

Deeds Not Words: A Cosmopolitan Perspective on the Influences of Corporate Sustainability and NGO Engagement on the Adoption of Sustainable Products in China

  • Dirk C. MoosmayerEmail author
  • Yanyan Chen
  • Susannah M. Davis
Original Paper


To make a business case for corporate sustainability, firms must be able to sell their sustainable products. The influence that firm engagement with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may have on consumer adoption of sustainable products has been neglected in previous research. We address this by embedding corporate sustainability in a cosmopolitan framework that connects firms, consumers, and civil society organizations based on the understanding of responsibility for global humanity that underlies both the sustainability and cosmopolitanism concepts. We hypothesize that firms’ sustainability engagement and their NGO engagement influence consumer adoption of sustainable products. Empirically, we investigate the adoption of sustainable Eco-circle products made from recycled fibers marketed by Li Ning, a China-based global sportswear brand. We apply a stepwise regression approach to test our hypotheses with paper-and-pencil survey data from 217 Chinese consumers. We find adoption to be positively associated with consumers’ sustainability attitude but not with firms’ sustainability engagement. For firm–NGO engagement, these relationships are reversed: Adoption is positively associated with firm–NGO engagement, but not with consumers’ related attitude. Our results present a picture of the Chinese context in which there is a business case for corporate sustainability if firms’ words about sustainable product strategies are supported by signals from civil society about firm deeds. The results imply that in a Chinese context, firms need to be particularly aware of the role of NGOs when hoping to be rewarded for sustainability.


Cosmopolitanism Sustainability China 



Comparative fit index


Common method variance


Variable mean


Non-governmental organization


Root-mean-square error of approximation


Standard deviation


Sustainable Development Goals


Tucker–Lewis index



The authors thank section editor Cory Searcy and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive and developmental feedback and guidance during the review process. Furthermore, we thank Ms. WU La for her contribution to the empirical work of this study and Oliver Laasch for feedback on an earlier draft of this article. The authors acknowledge financial support through the Ningbo–CASS Strategic Collaborative Project by the Ningbo Education Bureau and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (NZKT201204), Ningbo Municipal Bureau of Science and Technology (Soft Science Programme 201201A1007003), and a Nottingham University Business School China grant on “Exploring Chinese Consumers’ Perceptions of and Attitudes towards NGO Activity.”

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the authors’ institution and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The research project has been reviewed and was approved on July 13, 2014, according to the ethical review processes in place in the institution. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. Each participant read an electronic information sheet and then confirmed: “I understand the above information, and I agree to participate in this research.” This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nottingham University Business School ChinaNingboChina
  2. 2.University of PassauPassauGermany

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