The extant literature states that firms ‘go green’ in response to one or a combination of three factors: regulation, stakeholder pressure or ‘because it pays’, with each being tempered by managerial attitudes and perceptions. In this paper, we test the relevance of these factors in the empirical setting of Russia. Data collected from firms in three industrialised regions indicates that Russia's ‘coercive’ approach to regulatory enforcement has resulted in firms seeking to limit their environmental punishment, rather than improve their environmental management. Similarly, weak civil society in Russia has meant that stakeholders such as environmental non-governmental organisations fail to influence greening activity. We find that only ‘because it pays’ motives were persuasive. The paper concludes that, in settings such as the Russian Federation, market mechanisms are the only method by which to facilitate corporate greening and that steps should be taken to strengthen instruments like ISO 14001 to facilitate greening of this type. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.