Social and ecological thought: a case study of Tall Grass Prairie Bread Co.

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Vagianos, Savanna
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It has become clear that the business-as-usual approach to management—in which the primary goal of the firm is to maximize profit—is insufficient for fostering the well-being of people and the planet. Despite the dominance of the neoliberal, profit-maximizing and market-centric economy, firms that follow an alternative people and nature-centric approach do exist, and can, in fact, thrive in such an economy. This study examines the following three research questions: 1) What motivates people to operate a firm according to an integrated narrative that is people and nature-centric (particularly when it goes against the dominant societal narrative)? 2) What does it look like for a firm to operate in this way? And, 3) How do firms that value people and planet over profit survive in a competitive landscape that values profit-maximization? This paper provides an in-depth case study of Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company, an organization that values people and the planet more than profit. This firm has operated for more than 30 years and employs more than 50 people. I draw from stakeholder theory and radical business philosophies such as Social and Ecological Thought management and the ecologizing perspective to understand how Tall Grass operates. Participant observation, qualitative interviews and archival analysis were used to collect data for this study. My findings show that, regarding the first research question, in the case of Tall Grass, spirituality is the motivating factor for the firm to follow the ecologizing philosophy. Regarding the second research question, Tall Grass’s cycle of success is perpetuated by their unwavering philosophy to prioritize people and the planet over profit, which prompts them to implement business practices that are consistent with Waddock’s (2021b) six core values of ecologizing. These practices allow them to build meaningful, non-instrumental, long-term relationships with their various stakeholder groups. With regard to the third research question, Tall Grass’s stakeholders happily forgo economizing behaviour to support and belong to an ecologizing firm and community, which allows Tall Grass to maintain financial viability, and reinforces and informs their philosophy. Implications for stakeholder theory and the operationalization of radical business theories are also discussed.
business philosophy, ecologizing, flourishing, non-instrumental relationships, stakeholder relationships, socio-environmental well-being, people and nature-centric firms, Social and Ecological Thought management, spirituality