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3.2 Actions Organizations Take to Influence Legitimacy

Organizations use a range of actions, only a few of which will be discussed here. In their quest for legitimacy, organizations engage in various actions including changing their business performance, lobbying to change the normative environment, seeking to shape industry norms, and using communication strategically to frame a situation (Ihlen 2009).

3.2.1 Changing Business Performance

An organization which seeks to create a reputation as a green organization can change its business performance (e.g., engage in eco-efficiencies, create alliances with other organizations, develop new products and services, change working conditions and labor practices). Others monitor internal operations (e.g., use formal environmental management systems) to prevent any potential misconduct that would undermine long-term legitimation efforts (Emtairah and Mont 2008). Several of my interviewees who worked for nonprofits discussed how their organization followed elements of the for-profit business model. Resource dependency theory suggests this choice may be resource driven (e.g., to gain increased legitimacy or funding).

Oakley Brooks, Senior Media Manager of Ecotrust in Portland, OR, discussed the development of Ecotrust Forest Managements, their for-profit subsidiary. Growth in green building in the Northwest increased the need for more Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood. Ecotrust staff researched why the supply was limited and decided to create their own business model for simultaneously performing forest management and getting sustainable forests to the mill. They sought investors, raised more than $50 million, and bought forest land around the Northwest. In 2013, they owned and managed approximately 30,000 acres. They found ways to layer different activities into their forest management which resulted in different revenue streams (i.e., they sell carbon offset credits and habitat conservation easements). When I sat with Oakley on the green roof of their LEEDcertified home office, he said:

That follows the capital arc that we like to think of as the way we do business. We've got this grant-funded stage and research and development. If it's viable you move it to the market stage. Then you have, just like in the for-profit world, your early investors. These are people who are often conservation-minded. They have a sensibility for doing things in a different way. They are willing to invest in somewhat risky propositions. And then we push it up to the mainstream banking and investing environment to fund things. We are not quite to the mainstream investment arena for Ecotrust Forests' funds but it is getting more and more mainstream.

Ecotrust Forests is two investment funds that buy land on behalf of investors. Ecotrust Forest Management, the for-profit subsidiary of Ecotrust, manages the land on behalf of investors. Investment funds and foundations are investing and, thereby, conveying legitimacy and resources to the enterprise. Ecotrust designed its business performance in a creative way to become more fiscally sustainable while simultaneously working to promote environmental sustainability.

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