Tap into Your Organization’s Subcultures to Improve Environmental Responses

Tap into Your Organization’s Subcultures to Improve Environmental Responses

Jason Winders June 10, 2011
What motivates managers to look beyond regulatory requirements to improve their company’s environmental practices? It may be a matter of perspective. This paper argues that the relationships among an organization's subcultures shape how managers interpret and act on environmental issues. Organizational culture influences how team members define problems and how they choose the strategies they use to solve problems. Drawing from a nine-month study of a high-tech manufacturer, the author finds that the presence of multiple subcultures can lead a company to explore divergent strategies.


Differences between how members of company subcultures understand and process issues can shape how an organization addresses environmental issues. The paper explores two main subcultures within a firm: Tech, a group of 1,500 engineers and managers, and EnviroTech, a smaller, newer team drawn from the firm’s Environment, Health and Safety group or Facilities/Materials group. The authors examine how both groups respond to two environmental projects.


Implications for Managers

Implications for Researchers

This study relies on an analysis of two subcultures within a single organization, so the ability to generalize findings to other organizations is limited. New research can explore the broad findings that subcultures shape interpretations and actions on environmental issues, and that differentiation between subcultures and power may create new patterns of interpretations and actions.


The author conducted nine months of full-time observation at one of the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturers. She used an inductive approach to understand how environmental issues surfaced, were articulated, and acted on. Research was gathered through daily field notes, team member interviews, and document reviews. The author’s role as a participant within one of the subculture groups, and not merely an observer, provides unique insights into both the tacit and explicit aspects of the company’s culture and subcultures.
Howard-Grenville, Jennifer A. (2006). Inside the ‘Black Box’: How Organizational Culture and Subcultures Inform Interpretations and Actions on Environmental Issues. Organization & Environment. 19(1), 46-73.

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