Organizing for Sustainability: Volume 1

Cover of Organizing for Sustainability

Table of contents

(18 chapters)
Content available

List of Contributors

Pages vii-viii
Content available

Welcome to the first volume of the series “Organizing for Sustainable Effectiveness.” The series provides a platform for scholars and practitioners to share new research-based insights about the organizing imperatives associated with achieving sustainable economic, environmental, and social effectiveness. The series will explore and illuminate the development of sustainable systems, with a special focus on reporting theoretically informed, empirically based, and rigorously created knowledge to guide purposeful design approaches. The intent is to provide actionable knowledge about the processes, organization and work designs, system regulation, and continuous learning approaches that enable simultaneous focus on and advancing of economic, social, and environmental outcomes through time.

The large number of publications about sustainability and sustainable development that have been published during the past decade has dealt largely with the science of sustainability, the content of sustainability initiatives, and increasingly with the need to more closely link the economic, environmental, and social purposes and operating logic of the firm. Recent literature stresses the inherent social nature of the challenges to aggressively moving to more sustainable ways of operating for the well-being of our planet, society, economy, organizations, and humans. Despite rich case examples, guidance on how to organize to achieve the triple bottom line is limited. We take stock of the current state of knowledge, using an adaptive complex system perspective to articulate the challenges of organizing for sustainable effectiveness. Most of the global economy and the knowledge upon which it is predicated carry a logic of resource abundance even in the face of increasing competition for scarce resources, and a singular focus on economic outcomes. We argue that the development of new capabilities to address triple bottom line sustainability requires a change in that logic and requires new rules of interaction, new organizational and interorganizational designs, and new ways of learning. The premise is that systems can build on their inherent capabilities to learn and to act collectively in order to adapt. We argue that by working together to collaboratively explore how to organize for sustainability, academics and practitioners can accelerate knowledge generation and progress. This chapter provides the theoretical framing context for the chapters to come.

This chapter examines Unilever's transformation in sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) over the past decade. It tracks the author's involvement with an internal team that studied Unilever's world “outside in” and “inside out” through the engagement of over 100 organizational leaders to awaken the company for change. The case reports how Unilever embraced a “vitality mission” to align its strategies and organization around sustainability and CSR and infuse social and environmental content into its corporate and product brands. Among the innovations described are certification of the sources of sustainable fish and tea, Dove's inner-beauty campaign, and several “bottom of the pyramid” efforts. Particular attention is given to the makeover of its high-growth Asian business. The transformation is examined as a “catalytic” approach to change and discussed with reference to theories of complex adaptive systems. This raises theoretical questions about the role of top-down versus more communal leadership, the importance of mission versus vision in guiding change, and the relevance of emotive and psycho-spiritual versus more programmatic interventions in the rearchitecture of an organization as it progresses on sustainability and CSR.

Purpose – This chapter explores the use of evolutionary and institutionalization models to understand the progression of sustainability in organizations and their contribution to sustainable effectiveness. It describes the evolution of Gap, Inc.'s sustainability approach, its increasingly central role in the organization's strategy and design, and the methods it is using to institutionalize this critical change.

Design – The chapter describes alternative models of sustainability evolution and change institutionalization, and then applies the concepts in those models to understand Gap, Inc.'s sustainability journey.

Findings – The models of sustainability evolution and change institutionalization provide different but complimentary views on the extent to which sustainability is embedded in Gap, Inc.'s organization. These models can be a useful tool for assessing progress and recommending actions to increase the institutionalization of sustainability strategies and initiatives.

Originality and value – The findings of this chapter will help senior executives with responsibility for sustainability implementation. In addition to providing indicators for assessment of progress, findings of sustainability's institutionalization should prove helpful in predicting achievement of sustainable effectiveness.

This chapter examines the developmental journey toward a sustainable healthcare system in the west of Skaraborg County in Sweden from 2000 to 2010. It tracks a stream of collaborative research projects within the context of the Swedish sustainability debate that were focused on achieving improved care quality, patient safety, efficiency, and efficacy. The case reports how a central government directive to integrate healthcare at the local level – the county – led to the establishment of a development coalition management group that designed and managed the transformation via broad participation and engagement mechanisms. The transformation process toward a more sustainable healthcare system raises theoretical and practical questions about sustainable effectiveness, the role of partizcipation and learning mechanisms such as democratic dialogue conferences in sustainable effectiveness, the tension between planned and emergent change processes, and the challenge of integration in the drive toward a sustainable healthcare system.

Organizations are currently striving to become more sustainable, as resources dwindle and social desirability for sustainability increases. This is important in public sector organizations as well as private, and exemplars are needed. Therefore, this chapter provides a description of how a public housing authority in pursuit of a social mission parlayed an energy performance contract into a triple bottom line sustainability journey. The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority's (CMHA) sustainability journey has been shaped most significantly by the commitment of CMHA leadership to collaboration (internal and external) as a core strategy. The chapter provides a rich description of CMHA's emergent partnerships with various organizations in their environment; focusing first on energy and later encompassing social, ecological, and economic sustainability. It describes and analyzes the leadership that emerged which played an essential role in supporting the complexity of increasing collaborative involvement. New theories of leadership, most specifically Complexity Leadership Theory (Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2008), emergent leadership (Goldstein et al., 2010), and adaptive leadership (Heifetz, 1994) are used to make sense of the leadership philosophy and actions that worked in the sustainability journey.

Purpose – The purpose of this chapter is to discuss managing sustainability across an industry and examine the catalyst, enablers, and challenges for systems-level change through a case study of one organization, the Port of Los Angeles (POLA), and its participation in the Sustainable Enterprise Executive Roundtable (SEER) action learning network.

Methodology/approach – The chapter uses a case study approach, written by reflective practitioners in action.

Findings – The challenges and enablers of achieving organizational change for sustainability within the POLA ecology are addressed as part of a forcefield of enablers and obstacles. Action learning in the context of collaborative projects across the ecology becomes a key process for managing change toward a sustainable goods movement ecosystem.

Research/practical implications – The chapter is addressed to those scholar-practitioners who struggle with issues of organizational change for sustainability outcomes. The core work is to align organizations, within and around the node organization, for sustainability. By analyzing the systems forcefield, we can better perceive the implications for action and identify leverage for change.

Social implications – Organizations are the key unit for culture change for sustainability within society. Engaging with other organizations involved in the work of sustainability is required to create systems-level change.

Originality/value – The scholarly contribution is based on revisiting the usefulness of Lewin's Change Forcefield, which the authors have adapted by integrating the concepts of the learning organization and systems thinking to help understand change and redesign efforts for sustainability within and among organizations.

This chapter provides a rich and thick description of a collaborative, place-based, interorganizational process in the domain of social, ecological, and economic sustainability. Governmental agencies, businesses, philanthropic organizations, NGOs, consulting firms, and private citizens tried to move from an underorganized and tacit set of ineffective relationships toward a structural collaboration in service of a “place” known as the Cuyahoga River Valley. While the process built momentum and expectations among its participants and other stakeholders, an important outcome of the collaboration did not materialize as planned. The leading actors struggled with scaling a “negotiated order” and leveraging the high levels of commitment among the participants. Despite the setback, many of the aims of the collaboration continue to be achieved, albeit at a slower pace and without a high regional priority. The chapter explores whether the trans-organization development (Cummings, 1984) perspective is a useful model for intentionally intervening in a multi-stakeholder collaboration and the roles that negotiated order (Nathan & Mitroff, 1991) and referent organizations (Trist, 1983) play.

The chapters in this first volume of the book series “Organizing for Sustainable Effectiveness” captured a rich set of cases in which sustainable effectiveness was the central focus. Each chapter illuminated the development of a distinct sustainable system, and had a special focus on reporting theoretically informed and rigorously explored knowledge to guide purposeful design and learning approaches. Collectively the chapters highlighted the processes, organization and design, system regulation, and continuous learning approaches in complex organizational and multiorganizational systems that enabled simultaneous focus on and advancing of economic, social, and ecological outcomes. In this concluding chapter, we capture, via a comparative investigation, some of the learning from the cases about the development of new capabilities, design orientations, and learning mechanisms, and we chart directions for further research and managerial actions.

Hilary Bradbury-Huang is professor in the Management Division of Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). Her research, scholarly activism, and teaching focus on the human and organizational dimensions of creating healthy communities. At OHSU she teaches in the healthcare MBA and physician leadership development programs. She also develops the action research approach to community based participatory research for health.


Pages 243-245
Content available
Cover of Organizing for Sustainability
Publication date
Book series
Organizing for Sustainable Effectiveness
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN