Particularizing Nonhuman Nature in Stakeholder Theory: The Recognition Approach



The focus of this article is on stakeholder theory and nonhuman stakeholders. The article examines how nonhumans, such as animals and nature, can be recognized as stakeholders. We utilize the philosophical concept of ‘recognition’ to provide a normative underpinning for stakeholder theorizing on nonhuman nature. We discuss how recognition helps identify relevant nonhumans as organizational stakeholders, establish respect, and particularize nonhumans in their distinctiveness and in partner-like ways. This article increases the capacity of stakeholder theorizing to confront the challenges of the ecological crisis. Recognizing nonhuman stakeholders is an important, yet so far scarcely addressed topic, in circular economy research.

The recognition approach offers a new ethically informed understanding and vocabulary of nonhuman stakeholders in organization–nature relationships. Instrumentalist, power-based approaches offer little or no possibilities for ethical reflection or intrinsic valuation of nonhumans, sidelining managers and organizational practices that perceive nonhumans as stakeholders and partners, not resources, in organizational activities. The recognition vocabulary provides space for managers to create and nurture noninstrumentalizing approaches.

Recognition has also implications to nonhuman stakeholder identification. Particularization provides an important step for identifying that the nonhuman world contains complex individuals and collectives with distinctive features and signals.

The recognition of nature also has policy-level implications. We maintain that respectful approaches to nature in business need to be further encouraged and enabled by policy-making. One topical risk is that the regulative pressures for environmental sustainability encourage organizations to seek economically optimal solutions for meeting measurable (quantitative) and comparable environmental targets, such as carbon footprint reductions or recycling rates. Environmental action might become indicator-oriented ‘overengineering,’ neglecting the context-specific qualitative matters and sensitivity to nonhuman agencies. Measurable benefits may be achieved at the cost of causing other ecological harms or treating nonhumans instrumentally. We find it crucial to consider, in policy-making and in business, how different sustainability objectives are to be achieved, including their qualitative impacts on nature. Responds to the call for sustainability transformation should manifest the recognition of nature as the recognition of difference to ensure that numbers do not override life. Moreover, because realizing recognition has material costs, the existing economic and institutional arrangements and power disparities may prevent realizing recognition despite attitudinal changes. Therefore, policy-making needs to include noninstrumental and nonanthropocentric vocabularies and approaches.

Teea Kortetmäki, University of Jyväskylä
Anna Heikkinen, University of Tampere
Ari Jokinen, University of Tampere

Published: Journal of Business Ethics (2022) 

Potential beneficiaries of the results: Ministries, companies, research and development organizations, municipalities and central organizations.

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Anna Heikkinen
Tampereen yliopisto