Successful Sustainability Programs

Rupert Baumgartner and Vasilis Fthenakis presented industrial ecology, sustainable production and sustainable global product chains at the recent 17th Annual International Sustainable Development Research Conference in New York. The following article is thanks to information provided by Rupert Baumgartner, of the University of Graz, Austria.

Rupert begins by suggesting that while the philosophy of sustainable development is intensively discussed in politics and industries, it is rarely transferred to the reality of business activities. One reason is that corporate sustainability initiatives often underestimate the influence of corporate culture. Organizational culture is an important factor in business organizations as it frames behaviors of individual members of the organization through shared norms, values and beliefs. Thus, corporate sustainability activities and strategies have to be embedded in the organizational culture in order to be successful.

If the leaders and members of an organization don’t have a sustainable development mindset, corporate sustainability initiatives will not affect the core business and are more likely to fail.

business meetingTwo factors in an organization are key to the success of such initiatives. They are management’s conceptual understanding of sustainable development, and the level of concrete and practical actions and measures. This will help manage the corporate decisions that influence corporate culture and sustainability initiatives and lead to a greater level of success than would otherwise exist.

Some corporations engage directly in sustainability related activities, while others will need regulations and incentives to comply. Regardless of its motivation, a corporation has to organize, structure and embed sustainability related actions into its activities, strategies and routines for a successful sustainability management program to work. Integrating externalities, avoiding or reducing negative social and environmental impacts and identifying opportunities based on a (more) sustainable behavior are central aspects for better management. These aspects have to be included in any sustainability oriented business training.

Beyond the business world, corporations have cognitive resources, technologies and skills which can be used to contribute positively to a sustainable transition of our societies, Rupert suggests.

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Alison Wheatley

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