The effects of COVID‑19 pandemics in sustainability controversies: new shades of green in the battery metals industry in Quebec.

Aguilar Delgado, Natalia | $26,443

Quebec HEC Montréal 2021 SSHRC

As we approach the transition to clean energy technologies to halt climate change, sustainability controversies are arising globally. While proponents of new mines necessary for the development of battery’s value chain argue that these developments are sustainable and will positively change the future, others argue that mining operations can never be environmentally friendly. Therefore, efforts to mitigate climate change collide with objectives to protect local landscapes and quality of life of local citizens. We know from previous literature on sustainability controversies that notions associated with environmental protection, such as green’, just’, and sustainability’ are interpretable and ambiguous. What we still don’t know is how major crisis affects the development of these controversies. The broad research question motivating this research is: How does the COVID‑19 pandemic affects the evolution of the sustainability controversies in the battery metals industry in Quebec? This case was chosen because Quebec constitutes an instrumental case to understand sustainability controversies as the province has an economic and political aspiration of transitioning to a greener economy in a context of recovery after the unpreceded economic shock of the COVID‑19 pandemic combined with strong local institutions and an overall mobilized and aware civil society. We intend to do the fieldwork in two phases. The first will be to compare and contrast the main controversies involving the battery metals industry in Quebec before the COVID‑19 crisis. For the second phase, we will select four to six project to provide in-depth cases to contrast the effects of COVID‑19 pandemics. Our initial goal is to explore different facets of the phenomenon, including cases of mines led by foreign MNEs, Canadian MNEs, and/or local companies in our sample. We adopt Boltanski and Thévenot’s framework of economies of worth (EW) to analyse this controversy as it proposes a repertoire of common principles, which competent social actors can strategically rely on to justify their position in situations where disagreement over appropriate action prevail. This work aims at two major contributions. Because the pandemic presents a unique opportunity to study a shock, we intend to shed light on how stakeholders’ perceptions of a controversy are anchored in time and space and how this affects in turn their justifications. This processual and contextual focus on the evolution of the controversy allows for a better understanding of context in the trajectory of a controversy. Second, we expect to extend the understanding of the “green world” of justifications. By unpacking the dynamics around the new justifications for “green” measures, our work will shed light on discursive tactics to promote “green” interests over other interests. Even though we examine sustainability controversies in the context of the battery metals industry, we argue that this phenomenon is a relevant and generalized managerial issue affecting organizations and citizens attempting to promote their sustainability agendas. Researchers currently have little understanding of how a dramatic change in the contextual conditions of a sustainability controversy may affect the strategic discourses and practices of involved actors, and this research is expected to shed light on this phenomenon. Beyond theoretical significance, this research promises strong practical contributions, since sustainability controversies is a pressing issue, even more in a context of recovery of the economy after an unprecedented worldwide crisis.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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