Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 143, Issue 2, pp 261–276 | Cite as

Threat Interpretation and Innovation in the Context of Climate Change: An Ethical Perspective

  • Aoife Brophy HaneyEmail author


The ability of managers to identify and interpret challenges in the external environment is one of the micro-foundations of dynamic capabilities. The underlying literature on strategic issue interpretation suggests that interpreting environmental challenges as opportunities rather than threats is more likely to lead to proactive and innovative responses, but there are also potentially positive effects of threat interpretation, for instance high levels of commitment and risk-seeking behaviour. In this paper, I use the context of climate change to explore the link between threat interpretation and innovation in more detail. I use exploratory cluster analysis and illustrative case studies to develop a set of propositions to explain when threat interpretation can in fact encourage innovation. I identify two ethical mechanisms that positively mediate the relationship between threat interpretation and innovation: enlarged concept of responsibility to society and moral legitimacy. The paper contributes to the literature by identifying the importance of ethics in linking managerial interpretation to innovation, particularly in the context of global environmental and social challenges.


Innovation Environmental strategy Managerial interpretation Dynamic capabilities 



The author would like to thank Michael Pollitt and the entire Energy Policy Research Group at the University of Cambridge for their support in developing this research. The author is also grateful for construtive feedback from Volker Hoffmann and the SusTec team, as well as the anonymous reviewers, on previous versions of the article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Group for Sustainability and Technology, Department of Management, Technology and EconomicsETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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