Among the big three U.S. automakers, the first to begin developing a hybrid was the one that carries a family name. Ford’s hybrid Escape came out in 2004, and the company now advertises “the most fuel-efficient SUV on the planet.” Pascual Berrone, assistant professor of strategic management at the IESE Business School in Madrid, thinks that’s no accident.

“On average, family firms pollute less than nonfamily firms,” Berrone says. They are more likely to “consider affective elements that go...

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