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On the basis of this data analysis, stage three consisted of identifying eight extreme cases. These eight cases are highlighted in bold in Table 5.4. I focused on these eight firms for two reasons: (1) using restricted samples is in line with Eisenhardt’s (1989a) recommendations that appropriate theory building based on case studies usually includes anywhere between 4 and 10 cases, and (2) the theoretical saturation achieved after the analysis of these 8 extreme cases obviated the need for further in-depth analysis of the other 12 cases. I selected these cases based on two criteria: that (1) having either extremely high or extremely low VMS scores within the sample of 20 firms, and (2) having made explicit references in the interview of striving for a high score within the VMS system, to be sure that

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VMS membership reflected proactive environmental intentions. Based on this latter criterion, I excluded Minne, since it that had no intention to increase its performance and had only joined VMS to see whether the label could be used in the market. In order to diminish respondent bias by using only one interview for the case description, I did an additional exercise of triangulation of the interview data by interviewing multiple parties about one case firm. To this purpose, I used the case summaries of each of these eight firms and read them out loud to a number of people that were knowledgeable about the firm. In so doing, I was not only able to assess the accuracy of our report and correct it for misinterpretations, but I also encouraged the interviewees to provide new reflections and extra information to enrich my understanding of the cases. While I engaged the VMS director and the government representative for each firm in this process, I also interviewed employees or firm consultants whenever my search for archival material about a firm had yielded too little material. I used this information to revise the case summaries when necessary. With the corrected case summaries, I then went back to the owner-managers for final follow-up interviews, in which I asked again to verify the accuracy of the account and to supply additional material whenever possible. The case summaries where then written in their final version, to include the few corrections and additions that had emerged in the interviews. Again, all interviews lasted around 120 minutes and were gathered between May and November 2007. Table 5.5 provides an overview of the data sources that were available for the 8 investigated firms.

In the fourth and final stage, I set out to develop an organized interpretation of the data together with the co-author of chapters 6 and 7. To ensure accuracy and reliability of theory, that is, a theory with a close fit to the data, one tactic involved the selection of pairs or groups of cases to identify similarities and differences between cases (Eisenhardt, 1989a; Miles & Huberman, 1994). As a second tactic, given that my co-author was not able to understand the language of the interviews, he probed me for explicit and convincing quotes or examples that would substantiate the differences and similarities found. This process allowed me to diminish subjective researcher bias and make the findings as objective as possible. We began with our within-case analyses of each case to identify preliminary explanations of the phenomenon of interest. We then conducted cross-case analyses using pairs and groups of cases to further generalize these descriptors and enfolded extant perspectives in the literature to assess the external validity of our thinking. Our goal was to isolate a meaningful set of capabilities so that implications could be drawn for future theory testing. It was important, therefore, to identify a set of constructs that were theoretically meaningful, internally consistent, robust, and distinct. Reverting back and forth between the case analyses and the literature, we raised

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the descriptive concepts up one level of abstraction to second order themes where each theme encapsulated a number of underlying subcategories. Each time that we identified a secondorder theme, we went back through the cases to confirm that it was consistent across successful companies yet inconsistent across unsuccessful companies. From these analyses, we created tables to facilitate further comparisons and compared successive pairs of cases for similarities and differences in how these firms overcame constraints to develop the emerging constructs and theoretical logic.

Before presenting the findings of the case studies and discussing their contribution in providing answers to the research questions posed, I will first present a contextual description of the research setting.

5.3. Contextual description of the Belgian ornamental horticulture and its relation with the natural environment In the following sections, my goal is to present the background against which the findings of chapters 6 and 7 should be interpreted. As such, this presentation and description of the research context addresses the recent concerns in the literature to ground empirical findings in a thorough description of the context in which they emerged (Weick, 2007; Zahra, 2007; Tsui, 2007):

“Contextualization is essentially adding one more level to theorization by accounting for the effect of contextual characteristics on the behaviour of and within organizations.” (Tsui, 2007: 1358) In order to present the context in a systematic way, this section first provides a general description of the activities of ornamental horticulture firms and its particular interaction with the natural environment. Given the importance of VMS for the methodology of this dissertation, the next section explains the principles and status of this organization in the Belgian ornamental horticulture industry. Finally, I will move to a description of the sector in terms of general demographic characteristics, the economic context, and the institutional context.

5.3.1. What is ornamental horticulture?

The ornamental horticulture is the sector that unites all firms that grow plants for mainly ornamental purposes (vs. edible human consumption purposes) and includes arboriculture (the production of trees and woody products), floriculture, pot plant nurseries

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(including azaleas and indoor plants), perennial plants nurseries and young plant nurseries (invitro propagation of new plants). The focus in this dissertation is on production firms in the ornamental horticultural sector. Whereas firms may be active in this sector for trading, consulting, research or other activities, our focus lies with firms that have at least part of their activities in the production of plants.

A typical ornamental horticulture firm or nursery starts with base plant material (a.o.

seeds, cuttings or bulbs) which is either grown or propagated at the firm itself or bought from external firms. The plant base material is then grown to larger flowers, plants or trees, which are subsequently sold to end consumers or other firms that either continue the production in a new phase or market the plants further downstream in the value chain. The essential inputs for growth are soil (or another matrix in which the plant can root), nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous and minerals), water, sun, heat and CO2.

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Diverse production methods can be used to nurture the plants. The plants are either grown outdoors or indoors. Outdoor production is carried out in fields or beds, on large containers that are filled with soil, lava or gravel and then covered with cloth (the “container” system) or the plants may be set into pots recessed into the ground. Indoor production takes place in greenhouses, which are made of glass, fibreglass or plastic poly film. The choice for either production method depends on the optimal thermal conditions for plant growth.

Whereas outdoor production is the most natural type of production, greenhouses are used for plants that need a constant temperature or a higher supply of heat than outdoors. Greenhouses also allow for a more “controlled” environment (Paulitz & Belanger, 2001): the environmental conditions in the greenhouse (air temperature, humidity, insolation, CO2concentration and potential infections can be more or less controlled through technological means).

The market structure of the ornamental horticulture industry can essentially be divided into two sets of companies: those companies that operate upstream of the firm and those that operate off stream of the firm. Figure 5.1 depicts both parts of the ornamental horticulture market structure. Companies that operate upstream of an ornamental horticulture firm include all firms that provide the essential inputs to a firm. In addition, government and services (banks, consultants, research institutes, etc) provide the human, financial and institutional resources needed to be able to run the business. Finally, a number of businesses provide the machinery and infrastructure (durable goods such as greenhouses, cool cells, etc) used as physical means to run the business. Downstream, the plants leave the firm through a number of ways. A very small fraction of plants is sold directly to the consumer. In Belgium, only 5% of all plants that are bought by people are bought at the firm (VLAM, 2006). Usually, plants are transported to either auctions or other market places, sold to a distributor or directly to a small or large retailer (chain). In this process, the majority of plants leave the country for export to France, Germany and the UK (VLAM, 2006). Auction sales take place predominantly in the Netherlands, where the largest auctions in Europe are installed. As will become clear further in the analysis, the presence of these auctions is a very important factor in the functioning of the Belgian ornamental horticultural market as well. The majority of plants in Belgium, however, are sold to either a distributor or merchant or directly to smaller or larger retail shops or chains. Distributors and merchants, as intermediaries, add value in the market by taking care of exports and distributing the produce to either auctions or retailers.

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5.3.2. The natural environment and ornamental horticultural production In order to understand the environmental impact of ornamental horticultural production, it is necessary to understand the process of producing ornamental plants. The

three most important issues which I will shortly develop in this context are:

- Plant nutrition

- Ensuring plant health and quality

- Energy Plant nutrition The metabolism of plants depends on the conversion of CO2, water and sunlight energy, to chemical energy (carbohydrates) for growing and executing the basic functions of the plant. Oxygen is released as a result of this process. In order for plants to grow, however, plants not only need chemical energy, but also require proteins and fats, as new building components for DNA, cell material and other plant components. In order to build these proteins and fats, plants can use some of the carbohydrates from the photosynthesis, but they require nitrogen, phosphate, and spore elements like magnesium, potassium and sulphur as well. In natural conditions, these products are mostly available in the soil as the debris of decomposed organic material. In agricultural or horticultural systems, however, the natural replenishment of these nutrients is not ensured, since they are taken away from the soil in the form of harvest. Applying either organic or synthetic fertilizer is then necessary to replenish the soil with nutrients for new plant growth. In some production systems, “soil” is replaced by a rooting substrate that is drenched in a solution of water and synthetic fertilizer. It is often argued that the growth in agricultural production is largely due to such use of synthetic fertilizers (Tilman, Cassman, Matson, Naylor, & Polasky, 2002).

The problems of fertilizer application to the natural environment, however, are associated with excess nutrients leaching into the soil. In natural conditions, it is almost impossible to ensure horticultural production without loosing some fertilizer or nutrients through leaching or emissions. Over the last decades, however, the increased application of fertilizer has caused stress on the natural environment.

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