Journal of Business Ethics 176 (4):705-721 (2022)

Opportunistic behaviors are considered ethically and strategically troublesome since they disrupt otherwise mutually beneficial relationships. Previous literature has shown that firms attempt to protect their investments from opportunism by generating a large amount of patented marginal innovations in domains central to their industry. However, this approach may generate some ethical dilemmas by preventing firms and societies from more radical, collaborative, and much-needed environmental progress. We extend the environmental innovation literature using strategic and ethical lenses to analyze the potential of an alternative, divergent way to provide financial opportunities for a focal firm without aiming to prevent innovative opportunities for competitors. Our longitudinal analysis of 6768 environmental patents from 59 large companies worldwide in the electrical components and equipment industry shows that high levels of innovation intensity, environmental scope, bargaining power, and environmental expertise increase the incidence of patented environmental innovations related to domains in which industry competitors are less focused. We also show a positive relationship between this divergence and market-based firm performance. Our results suggest that pursuing innovative divergence to avoid opportunism may make ethical and market sense and we also identify the organizational factors that can support these efforts.
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DOI 10.1007/s10551-020-04693-0
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