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Chapter 3 Legitimacy, Stakeholders, and Strategic Communication Efforts

Abstract When organizational leaders undertake sustainability-related initiatives, they are concerned with whether or not their key stakeholders perceive their organization and its actions to be legitimate. In this chapter, legitimacy is defined, the types of legitimacy are described, the benefits of being seen as legitimate and having a positive reputation are discussed, and actions used to manage legitimacy are reviewed. Communication helps manage perceptions of the legitimacy of industries as well as individual organizations. Message credibility is important. Standardized communication directed simultaneously toward multiple internal and external stakeholders is discussed (i.e., annual public meetings, websites and sustainability reports, reporting frameworks, certifications, and architecture such as LEED-certified office buildings). Best practices are provided. The chapter reviews stakeholder theory and discusses the need to adapt messages to engage different stakeholders. In addition, theories or theoretical concepts highlighted include population ecology theory, resource dependency theory, institutional isomorphism, agency theory, normative discourse, the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion, actor–network theory, speech act theory, attribution theory, visual rhetoric, narrative theory, and organizational co-orientation theory. Interview data drawn from a variety of organizational types illustrates the applicability of theory and research. Organizations represented include Tyson Foods; WasteCap Nebraska; Missoula Sustainability Council; Ecotrust; the Neil Kelly Company; the Arbor Day Foundation; Aspen Skiing Company; the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; the City of Boulder; Sam's Club; Assurity Life Insurance; Heifer

International®; the Natural Resources Defense Council; the University of Colorado,

Boulder; and the University of Colorado, Denver.

Lewis and Clark, Legitimacy, and Stakeholders Jefferson had wanted to explore the West since the 1790s. He and Meriwether Lewis began preparing in 1802, but told no one. Lewis submitted a $2,500 budget which he kept small so as to limit Congressional criticisms and Indian fears of invasion. Jefferson omitted the request from his proposed annual budget. In 1803, he sent a secret message to Congress requesting the money, arguing it would aid American commerce by opening up trade with native peoples and result in a river route to the ocean— actions which would allow the Americans, rather than the British, to control the fur trade. Congress received the secret message after they approved paying for the Louisiana Purchase. Why the delay? Opposing forces existed. The Federalists saw no point in spending money on western exploration and feared expansion would dilute their political power base on the eastern seaboard. They ridiculed the stories being told about the unknown interior and condemned the acquisition of a wilderness. Aware of the opposition and because he feared the Louisiana Purchase would be deemed unconstitutional, Jefferson drafted a constitutional amendment authorizing the national government to purchase new lands and promote settlement of the new territory. Then, he decided to submit a treaty instead of an amendment. The treaty was quickly ratified. In this example, issues emerge which we cover in this chapter including legitimacy (e.g., the questionable constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase) and stakeholders (e.g., the Federalists, the Congress, the explorers, and the native peoples). Broadly defined, stakeholders are “any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of an organization's objectives” (Freeman 1984, p. 46). More narrowly defined, they are those groups which are vital to an organization's survival and success.

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