Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2017

Can CEO Activism Spark Sustainability Transitions? Evidence from a Field Experiment

by Aaron K Chatterji and Michael W. Toffel


Creating sustainability transitions will require more than companies taking proactive measures in their own operations and supply chains. Fostering significant change will also require business leaders to harness their power to call for public policy solutions, a challenging proposition in a politically polarized environment. This paper focuses on how CEOs engage in the political process to encourage government policies that will foster sustainability transitions and address other social problems. Distinct from nonmarket strategy and traditional corporate social responsibility, the recent wave of CEO activism focuses on social issues unrelated to their core business, ranging from environmental issues to LGBT rights and race relations. Using two field experiments we provide evidence on how CEO activism can influence public opinions about government policies and consumer attitudes about the CEO’s company. We conclude by providing a roadmap for future research on this emerging phenomenon.

Keywords: politics; policy; policy-making; corporate social responsibility; lobbying; campaign contributions; regulation; environment; environmental and social sustainability; sustainability; climate change; gender; human rights; Leadership; Policy; Ethics; Governance; Social Issues; Environmental Sustainability; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; United States;


Chatterji, Aaron K., and Michael W. Toffel. "Can CEO Activism Spark Sustainability Transitions? Evidence from a Field Experiment." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-100, March 2016. (Revised January 2017.)