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abstract  The imposition of social obligations on the UK energy supply industry provides an important opportunity to examine how social responsibilities are construed by companies and how these constructions relate to perceptions of the role of regulation, specifically the scope for compromise and influence with the regulator. Our data suggest four templates for understanding this relationship: embracing social obligations, business as usual, management deliberation, and conflicts with commerce. First, embracing social obligations is based on competitive advantage and struggles for market leadership, and highlights informal mechanisms in attempts to influence the regulatory agenda. Second, business as usual reflects pre-existing standard operating procedures and a generalized approach to serving the broad consumer base in line with regulation as formal policing procedures. Third, management deliberation is a way of either reflecting upon or stalling progress on social issues, and suggests compromise and passivity in regulatory relations. Fourth, conflicts with commerce focuses on the inherent difficulties of reconciling social obligations with economic regulation and a profit orientation, so that meeting minimum standards or the risk of regulatory censure may be sensible strategies. Together these templates emphasize the subjective and multiple nature of social responsibility and of regulatory relationships, and demonstrate struggles for the strategic and operational meaning over the nature of public interest and competitive advantage.