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University of Exeter Business School

The Politics of Sustainability

Module titleThe Politics of Sustainability
Module codeMBAM848
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Onna Van Den Broek (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks

2.5 days

Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Ford being accused of ‘greenwashing’ as they lobbied in favour of the controversial the Keystone XL pipeline while their sustainability policies pled otherwise. Philip Morris being shamed for not divesting their Russian assets after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These examples show not only that environmental and social sustainability is inherently linked to politics, but also how corporations are expected to take their political responsibility seriously. In this module, you will explore corporations’ socio-political environment and their political strategies and responsibilities. The module will give you hands-on tools to successfully take political responsibility for your corporation and drive sustainability change at the system-level.

Module aims - intentions of the module


In this module, you will explore corporations’ political strategies and how they can be responsible in times of political discord. The objective is two-fold. First, you will examine current trends in socio-political environments and their relevance for corporations. Second, you will delve into corporations’ different political roles and strategies. This part of the module has a clear practical and hands-on focus. During the module, you will engage with a combination of articles from journals such as Harvard Business Review and California Management Review, as well as practical industry guidance tools, for example by the Global Reporting Initiative. You will then connect the different parts by providing a written industry guidance in groups. Individually, you will develop a corporation-specific advice, that is accompanied by an elevator pitch aimed at getting buy in at the board level.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Explain the current socio-political environment and how this relates to (and is relevant for) different types of corporations.
  • 2. Discuss the different ways corporations can be (and are) politically active, ranging from lobbying to speaking out on politically sensitive topics.
  • 3. Evaluate the extent to which a corporation is assuming its political responsibility and define what the risks are for misalignment and/or inaction.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Critically analyse socio-political developments and their consequences for social and environmental sustainability, broadly speaking.
  • 5. Simultaneously abstract political responsibilities and specify them in precise context(s) for individual- and group-level action.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Navigate politically sensitive waters by devising and sustaining a logical argument.
  • 7. Summarize an argument by developing an elevator-pitch.
  • 8. Transfer knowledge of the socio-political political environment into advice and guidance for particular entities

Syllabus plan

This module has a seminar-based structure. Below an overview of the topics that will be discussed. The convenor provides a full programme of each academic year’s topics prior to the start of the module. The module will be tailored, where possible, to the socio-political context that is relevant to the students.


Part A. The socio-political environment:

- Political strategy and the need for responsibilities

- Geopolitical tensions, populism, and political divisions

- Dealing with different types of regimes, including authoritarian and non-democratic regimes


Part B. Political roles and strategies:

- Responsible lobbying (including donations, industry associations, think tanks, etc.)

- Speaking out and making political statements

- Providing public goods and services

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities17Face-to-face seminars and workshops
Guided Independent Study33Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Discussion and Q&As during face-to-face seminars and workshopsOngoing throughout the module1-8Oral feedback
Outline company-specific advice 200 words per student1-6, 8Written feedback
Proposal for guidance 15 minutes meeting per group1-3, 6-8Oral feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Company advice601000 words1-6, 8Written and Verbal feedback from tutor
Elevator Pitch401 minute video1-3, 5-6, 7Written and Verbal feedback from tutor

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Company advice1000 words1-6, 8July/August Reassessment Period
Elevator Pitch1 minute video1-3, 5-6, 7July/August Reassessment Period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

  • Levin, B., & Downes, L. (2022). Every Company Needs a Political Strategy Today. MIT Sloan Management Review, 64(1), 1-4.
  • Kaplan, R., Levy, D. L., Rehbein, K., & Richter, B. (2022). Does corporate lobbying benefit society?. Rutgers Business Review, 7(2), 166-192.
  • Winston, A., Doty, E., & Lyon, T. (2022). The Importance of Corporate Political Responsibility. MIT Sloan Management Review, 64(1), 1-4.
  • Lyon, T. P., Delmas, M. A., Maxwell, J. W., Bansal, P., Chiroleu-Assouline, M., Crifo, P., ... & Wijen, F. (2018). CSR needs CPR: Corporate sustainability and politics. California Management Review60(4), 5-24.
  • Lock, I., & Seele, P. (2016). Deliberative lobbying? Toward a noncontradiction of corporate political activities and corporate social responsibility?. Journal of Management Inquiry25(4), 415-430.
  • Aaron K. Chatterji and Michael W. Toffel (2018). The New CEO Activists. A playbook for polarized political times. Harvard Business Review, The New CEO Activists (
  • Rehbein, K., Leonel, R., Den Hond, F., & de Bakker, F. (2020). How do firms that are changing the world engage politically?. Rutgers Business Review5(2), 203-225.
  • Moorman, C. (2020). Commentary: Brand activism in a political world. Journal of public policy & marketing39(4), 388-392.
  • Feldmann, M., & Morgan, G. (2022). Business elites and populism: Understanding business responses. New Political Economy27(2), 347-359.
  • Valente, M., & Crane, A. (2010). Public responsibility and private enterprise in developing countries. California Management Review52(3), 52-78.
  • Mair, J., Kindt, J., & Mena, S. (2023). The Emerging Field of Political Innovation. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 21(2), 24–29.
  • Morrisson, J. (2023) The political environment: Democracy under Threat. In Morrison, J. The global business environment: Sustainability in the balance, 6th edition, Bloomsbury Academic, London: UK.

Other resources:

Key words search

Sustainability, Politics, Responsibilities, Geopolitics

Credit value5
Module ECTS


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date