OPINION – Routinizing Sustainability in Macau: An Institutional Approach

Carlos Noronha

Vice President, Executive Council

Macau Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility in Greater China (MICSRGC)

At the time of writing this article, the COVID-19 pandemic is still causing the daily loss of lives worldwide and the availability of vaccines has currently become a hot topic of discussion.

An article published in The Lancet in December 2020 postulated a perspective that the virus could be a result of climate change, and the two have been described as converging and interwoven crises. The problem of climate change is undoubtedly human-created while COVID-19 has generally been accepted as a zoonotic crisis. The former, as broadly known, has led to increased mortality rates (human or zoonotic) due to temperature change, deforestation, migration, and has eventually led to the extinction of biological species. It is not surprising to see the chain reaction on how these misfortunes result in a zoonotic metamorphosis which in turn reverts back upon humanity.

With the pandemic still not fully under control, the United Nations’ plan of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 appears to become more and more remote. Nevertheless, with the recent return of the US back to the Paris Agreement and China making more solid promises on carbon emission reduction, we can still play our part in contributing to the attainment of SDGs. In this article, I wish to present a few tactics from the field of institutional theory to suggest how business entities, large or small, can play a role in making sustainability a part of their daily routines.

Lawrence and Suddaby, researchers in organization studies, have described three stages of institutional work, namely “creating institutions”, “maintaining institutions” and “disrupting institutions”, and have suggested a topology to explain the entire framework of institutional work. I shall try to select some of the elements in this topology and apply them to the situation of business institutions in Macau.

Firstly, at the “creating” level, “advocacy” (through strong regulatory forces) and “defining” (constructing rules) are the basic foundations for an institution. In the case of Macau, advocacy largely relies on governmental enforcement and the making of rules through legislation. However, it is worth noting that most governmental and legal initiatives in Macau remain at the “environmental protection” level while the SDGs have many more far-reaching destinations. As such, at the “creating” level, many large-scale enterprises in Macau, especially the gaming enterprises have developed their own “advocacy” and “defining” tactics through what we call the “constructing normative networks” and “mimicry” actions by paying reference to well-established international standards of sustainability reporting. Utilities companies in Macau have also selected applicable SDGs and mimic other established institutions worldwide to implement such SDG practices.

In the second phase, once an institution has been established, how do business entities “maintain” the institution? “Policing” is one essential element of this phase as third-party verification of sustainability activities or reporting is still not that popular, probably due to high monetary costs. Efforts can be made to divert “policing” to other “incentive-based” initiatives such as solid government awards (advocacy) through contests or rewards. Also, at the “maintain” stage, “educating” is another extremely important responsibility to be taken up, not only by the business entities, but also by the “advocacy” groups. Many gaming and hospitality enterprises in Macau are investing a lot in this facet by conducting workshops and supporting related seminars and even going into the schools.

Finally, the last stage is “disrupting institutions”. This looks a bit frightening but in Lawrence and Suddaby’s words, this means disconnecting rewards and sanctions from some sets of technologies or rules. In the case of Macau, I would rather put it this way: when philanthropy such as charitable donations no longer excite people, a business entity should take this as routinized and should seek another stage of sustainability goals. The current problem is that many business entities, large or small, or medium, remain at the status quo of CSR-as-philanthropy while there are many other SDGs to be pursued. Especially related to Macau, labor relations could be one pressing agenda for betterment. For sure, we are also aware of the materiality constraint of SDGs and the applicability to Macau’s social and economic conditions, but through this institutionalization process of CSR and sustainability, business entities, large and small, can actively take part in this global mission.