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Which Corporate Sustainability Activities are Associated with Greater Financial Payoffs?


Nicole Darnall, Arizona State University, School of Public Affairs and School of Sustainability, Phoenix, AZ, USA. E-mail:


While many company managers and academic researchers have argued that businesses that develop a sustainability focus also may improve their financial performance, little information is known about whether firms' different types of sustainability activities are related to varying degrees of financial gain. This paper assesses the economic relationship between two types of sustainability activities – lower- and higher-order – derived from the sustainability value framework of Hart and Milstein (2003). Our analysis reveals that both types of sustainability activities are similarly associated with firms' financial performance in terms of direction and trend. However, the average level of financial benefits related to firms' higher-order sustainability activities (which develop new products and processes) is greater than the average level of financial benefits related to firms' lower-order sustainability activities (which modify existing products and processes). These findings offer initial evidence that companies that reach further by developing higher-order sustainability activities may reap greater financial benefits, while improving the natural environment to a greater degree. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.