Sustainability problems often seem intractable. One reason for this is due to difficulties coordinating actors’ efforts to address socially responsible outcomes. Drawing on theories of bounded ethicality and incorporating work on communicating shared values in coordinating action this paper outlines the lack coordination as a matching issue, one complicated by underlying heterogeneity in actors’ moral values and thus motivation to address socially responsible outcomes. Three factors contribute to this matching problem. First, we argue it is not actors’ simple cognitive awareness, but their moral awareness of social issues that explains why certain actors move to address problems while others do not. In other words, actors may recognize sustainability problems, but are not motivated to solve them as they are not understood as moral problems. Second, we posit that progress requires alignment in issues that some actors find worth addressing whereas others do not, thus explaining how heterogeneity in moral perceptions interrupt coordination towards socially important goals. Finally, we propose that progress is undermined if actors myopically focus on level-specific outcomes in ways that elucidates why institutional responses often fail to address individual outcomes and vice versa. We use the existing literature on the socially important issue of food waste to examine our theoretical contribution and develop a typology that explains conditions that inhibit (or promote) coordination. Thus, our work proposes a psycho-structural view on matching and coordination toward sustainable outcomes, highlighting how psychological and structural constraints prevent effective coordination in addressing sustainability goals.
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While communication is key to our argument, for parsimony we assume that actors effectively communicate goals they find meaningful to others. However, there are various reasons these values are not communicated based both on personal motivation where actors approach certain people and not others based on personal perceptions (e.g., Competence and Warmth: Casciaro & Lobo, 2008; 2015; Fiske, 2018), or social mispredictions where actors hold common views but, due to mistaken beliefs that others hold contrary views, they withhold communication of beliefs to avoid social disapproval (e.g., pluralistic ignorance: Miller & McFarland, 1987).
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The authors would like to thank research groups at Aahrus University and the Center for Retailing at Stockholm School of Economics for their comments on this work. Special thanks goes to Aylin Aydinli for her suggestions when revising the manuscript, as well as handling editor Kai Hockerts and three anonymous reviewers for their feedback and direction. The study was conducted as part of the WASTEPROM project AUFF-E-2015-FLS-8-59 funded by the Aarhus University Research Foundation (AUFF) (Starting Grant).
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Wakeman, S.W., Tsalis, G., Jensen, B.B. et al. Seeing the Issue Differently (Or Not At All): How Bounded Ethicality Complicates Coordination Towards Sustainability Goals. J Bus Ethics 178, 325–338 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-021-04823-2