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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The politics of eating sustainably : explaning altruism in the Ocean Wise program Sternsdorff Cisterna, Nicolas Igor


What motivates businesses to voluntarily join an eco-label and pledge to uphold standards over and above those required by the state? The academic literature has generally approached this question by analyzing the economic benefits a business derives from their participation. We can explain their behaviour because they are receiving economic benefits in the form of price premiums, brand equity or market share. The benefits can also come in the form of risk mitigation by designing your own environmental policy and choosing how to honour it, as opposed to having the government set up the rules. Critics point out that there is no assurance that businesses are capable of caring about anything beyond the bottom line of profits, and question the logic of letting businesses design and uphold environmental legislation in their own terms. This study takes a step back from this debate and seeks to better understand how those who sign onto eco-labels explain their activities to themselves. I pursue an interpretative methodology that focuses on understanding how agents make sense of their actions and their world. Based on a collection of interviews with the executive chefs of the restaurants that signed onto the Ocean Wise eco-label, I argue that altruism and the desire to do the right thing play a role in motivating beyond-compliance behaviour. I find that the chefs do not use the language of market-based benefits to explain why they are upholding stricter standards in sourcing sustainable seafood in their kitchens. Instead, they use the language of political action and personal responsibility to explain their involvement. By focusing on the role of self-explanations and showing how agents make sense of their involvement in an eco-label, I draw attention to the role altruism can play in motivating businesses to join private environmental initiatives like Ocean Wise.

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