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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Bill Wooldridge

Second Advisor

Steven Floyd

Third Advisor

Bruce Skaggs

Fourth Advisor

Lisa Keller

Subject Categories

Strategic Management Policy


The challenge of sustainability has become an increasingly important concern for organizations. Sustainability raises new questions of legitimacy for organizations, compelling them to address stakeholder expectations of economic, environmental, and social performance. Although consumer stakeholders act as the ultimate arbiter of legitimacy for many firms, we know little about how consumers may influence corporate sustainability. This dissertation consists of three essays that examine the role of consumers in influencing corporate sustainability. The first essay examines how companies may attempt to manage sustainability ratings assigned by ratings agencies in an attempt to retain consumer stakeholder support. I argue that an understanding of cognitive choice models helps to reveal conditions under which firms may pursue improvements in sustainability performance in non-core practices rather than in core practices. The second essay is a quantitative analysis of corporate social performance in industry. With arguments grounded in the stakeholder salience framework of stakeholder theory, I argue that a firm’s proximity to end-consumers will be related to specific dimensions of corporate social performance (community and diversity performance). Results of the study indicate that closer proximity to end-consumers (i.e., a greater percentage of revenues from end-consumers as opposed to businesses) is associated with stronger community and diversity performance. The third essay is a discourse analysis that examines how discourse is used to maintain legitimacy when consumer stakeholders’ legitimacy concerns pose a threat to the firm’s legitimacy. Drawing on rhetorical analysis and critical discourse analysis, I identify three themes (social, environmental, and economic) and three rhetorical justifications (ethos, logos, and pathos) in texts produced by Monsanto. I offer potential explanations for the relative frequency of themes and rhetorical justifications, and further identify taken-for-granted assumptions in Monsanto’s texts. Taken together, these essays suggest that consumer stakeholders hold a significant role in influencing firms’ actions, as well as the communication of those actions, regarding sustainability. More broadly, this dissertation reveals the insights that may be gained by foregrounding consumer stakeholders in management research.