January 19, 2017

10:00-11:00 a.m.

Please note: This event is for invited researchers only.


Empowering issue sellers through Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps

Talk Description: 

In this talk, we examine the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Climate Corps program in order to explore dynamics between issue sellers internal to organizations and social movement activists. Our analysis of EDF’s Climate Corps sheds light on poorly understood change dynamics that occur when the boundaries between “targeted” organizations and social movements are porous. Change is not simply a matter of activist challenges that organizations respond to or not. Rather, organizations are rife with internal plans for change that may consequentially connect with external ties, including activists as well as peer organizations. Research on issue selling highlights this endemic change activity as well as the challenges in regards to motivation and resources. These challenges incentivize issue sellers to cooperate with external activists whose identities and goals align. In preliminary findings, we show that the influence of engagement with activists on organizational change efforts is a function of internal organizational characteristics. Through Climate Corps, EDF amplifies the ambition and scope of sustainability initiatives, and this impact is greater at organizations with a strong sustainability background and a history of sustainability reform. Rather than conceptualizing social movements as intervening to redirect organizations, it is also the case that change cumulatively proceeds through the joint efforts of activists that cooperate across organizational boundaries. Scholars should attend to the characteristics of this connection in order to better understand organizational change.


Sara Soderstrom is an Assistant Professor in Organizational Studies and Program in the Environment at University of Michigan. She earned her PhD in Management and Organizations from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. In her research, she studies how individuals within organizations mobilize others, develop coalitions, and access key decision makers when they are trying to implement sustainability initiatives. Further, she studies individual and organizational responses to the ambiguity and uncertainty that surrounds sustainability.

Todd Schifeling is an Erb Institute Post-doctoral Research Fellow with a concurrent appointment as a Dow Sustainability Fellow at the University of Michigan. He studies the sustainability implications of interactions between social movements and companies, focusing especially on the evolving struggle to define green products as opposed to greenwashing. His work has been published in the American Journal of Sociology, and has received best paper awards from the American Sociological Association and significant attention from the media. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Michigan and holds a B.A. from Reed College.

Research is the heart of Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), and we want to make sure that we support each other in developing high quality research. To that end, we created the Adderley Positive Research Incubator for sharing and encouraging POS-related research ideas that are at various stages of development.

Learn more about the Adderley Positive Research Incubator here and direct questions about individual sessions to Julia Lee at jooalee@umich.edu.