While prior work has noted the importance of knowledge creation in gaining competitive advantages, much less is understood about why firms do not actually use what they create. Building upon institutional approaches to organization studies, we offer a new framework to explain the gap between knowledge creation and utilization. We test our framework in an empirical context of sustainable innovation and environmental technologies where ideas of environmental sustainability have recently gained public popularity and shaped how interested audiences make evaluative assessments of firms.
In such a context, firms are apt to perceive the social attention toward sustainability to be a normative pressure, which causes them to create new knowledge and develop technologies consistent with the pressure. Using data from the government-initiated certification system for green technologies, our study finds that firms do not always fully implement new environmental technologies they develop in response to the certification program, the situation we refer to as knowledge decoupling. We also examine a set of conditions under which knowledge decoupling becomes more or less amplified.
Taken together, our findings show how a firm’s knowledge creation and utilization is shaped by its external institutional environment as well as internal learning processes.