Article | Business History | April–June 2014

Making 'Green Giants': Environment Sustainability in the German Chemical Industry, 1950s–1980s

by Geoffrey Jones and Christina Lubinski

Abstract

This article examines the evolution of corporate environmentalism in the West German chemical industry between the 1950s and the 1980s. It focuses on two companies, Bayer and Henkel, that have been identified as "green giants," and traces the evolution of their environmental strategies in response to growing evidence of pollution and resulting political pressures. The variety of capitalism literature has suggested that the German coordinated market economy model was more conducive to green corporate strategies than liberal market economies such as the United States. This article finds instead that regional influences were more important, supporting sociological theories about the importance of visibility in corporate green strategies. It identifies major commonalities between corporate strategies in the German and American chemical industries until the 1970s, when the two German firms diverged from their American counterparts in using public relations strategies not only to contain fallout from criticism, but also as opportunities for changes in corporate culture aimed at promoting a positive bond with consumers based on new green brand identities.

Keywords: business history; chemical industry; Green Business; regional strategy; pollution; Henkel; Bayer; Globalization; History; Chemical Industry; Germany; United States;

Citation:

Jones, Geoffrey, and Christina Lubinski. "Making 'Green Giants': Environment Sustainability in the German Chemical Industry, 1950s–1980s." Business History 56, no. 4 (April–June 2014): 623–649.