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Woolworths South Africa: making sustainability sustainable

John Luiz (Wits Business School, Wits, South Africa)
Amanda Bowen (Wits Business School, Wits, South Africa)
Claire Beswick (Wits Business School, Wits, South Africa)

Emerald Emerging Markets Case Studies

ISSN: 2045-0621

Publication date: 1 January 2011


Subject area

Sustainable development; business, government, and society.

Study level/applicability

The case is designed to be taught to students at MBA and MA level.

Case overview

In February 2009, Justin Smith, manager of the good business journey at Woolworths, a leading South African department store, was a worried man. Woolworths had launched its five-year sustainability strategy just under two years before. After undertaking an impact assessment, Smith was concerned that the original targets – which covered transformation, social development, the environment and climate change – had been set without a clear understanding of exactly what it would take to achieve them. Woolworths had recently identified ten key risk areas that impacted on the achievement of its original goals. If the sustainability goals were not reached, Woolworths could lose credibility among its shareholders, staff, and consumers. What did Woolworths need to do to ensure that it achieved its sustainability goals? And had the company been too ambitious in the targets it had set initially, he wondered?

Expected learning outcomes

To examine the differences, if any, between sustainable development in South Africa and other developing nations and sustainable development in developed nations; to impart an understanding of sustainability in its broadest sense; to investigate the challenges in implementing sustainability strategies in business; to look at ways of measuring the success of sustainability strategies; and to explore whether and how sustainability strategies should differ across industry sectors and across companies.

Supplementary materials

Teaching notes.



Luiz, J., Bowen, A. and Beswick, C. (2011), "Woolworths South Africa: making sustainability sustainable", Emerald Emerging Markets Case Studies, Vol. 1 No. 1.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited