It is (almost) always interesting to go back and discover what has been studied in the past. Academic journals in the marketing field have been with us for many generations so we have a large sample to look at. Brian Chabowski and colleagues in 2011 reviewed what had been studied in academic sustainable marketing research.
The authors looked at 51 years of research across 36 journals. The first thing to note is that academic sustainable marketing research isn’t just a new thing. They searched on a list of inclusion (e.g., Corporate Social Responsibility) and exclusion (e.g., Sustainable Compoetitive Advanatge) keywords. They were able to find 76,342 citations related to 1,320 articles. From this list of citations, they built up a social network. Essentially, they looked at how papers connect up to other papers in the same way we might look at how people link up to other people on Facebook or Linkedin.
What Did Academic Sustainable Marketing Research Study?
They found that the key areas for such research could be put under the headings of:
- Citizenship behavior
- Stakeholder theory
- corporate performance, and
- Triple Bottom Line
They then specified 5 themes in the discussion of academic sustainable marketing research:
- External-internal focus
- Social-environmental emphasis
- Legal-ethical-discretionary intent
- Marketing assets, and
- Financial performance
Periods of Study
The authors divided their study into three periods
1950-1980s: A lot (but not all) of the work in this period was focused on ethics.
… a direct relation cannot be established between the early (1950-1980s) and later (1990s and 2000s) research on sustainability.Chabowski et al, 2011, page 60
In some ways, there was a break and a reinvention of the field after the 1980s.
1990s: Familiar trends started to emerge. CSR became related to ethics and economic discussions began to emerge.
2000s: CSR remained critical to the discussion but more depth was added. Moderation (how effects change depending upon another variable) and mediation (what links up two ideas) became to be central to the discussion. There was a greater emphasis on firm resources and competitive performance.
Overall, it is fascinating to see how studies change over time. What will be talking about in another 50 years?
Read: Chabowski, Brian R., Jeannette A. Mena, and Tracy L. Gonzalez-Padron. (2011) “The structure of sustainability research in marketing, 1958–2008: A basis for future research opportunities.” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 39, 55-70.