In the course of our intensive preparatory sessions prior to the field trip to Montreux, we focused on discussing a range of challenging sustainability issues. I was intrigued by the different ways we would comprehend a particular reading or concept depending on our academic background. For that reason, the aim of this collaborative blog is to present my perspective (from a Marketing point of view and beyond it) on one of the WBCSD uniquely positioned pathways – REDEFINING VALUE (1). In addition, I highly recommend that you have a read through Maria’s thoughts on the topic from her Accounting and Finance viewpoint.
A question of quite controversial opinions is whether we can consider particular business initiatives truly sustainable and what is the connection (or disconnection) between the underlying economic models and types of consumer behavior (2). I aim at illustrating this by giving the following example, taken directly from our seminars:
The nine planetary boundaries are at the heart of our human prosperity in the long-term and positive relationship with the Earth system and its resources. When we were given the task to discuss the framework, the following question immediately struck Maria – “If we are addressing a certain boundary, how can we quantify the progress made in terms of exact numbers included in financial reports and are these numbers justifiable?” In the meantime, I was captivated by the following: “What is the chance that companies are genuinely adopting the framework into their practices and isn’t this purely a part of a brand image and repositioning strategy?” As you can see, we both had certain prejudices towards measuring and verifying business sustainability management but with our attention points being highly contrasting.
Corporate environmentalism is presenting economic growth and ecological well-being as mutually supportive, reinforcing the idea that we can “do well by doing good” (3).
There is notable pressure put on companies in terms of disclosing their management sustainability practices (4) and the above figure makes me wonder how complex it might be to consider all these interlinkages while coping with that pressure. I should admit that I would not be able to do so if I stick only to my marketing-orientated mind…
In Metaphors for Environmental Sustainability (5), Larson describes progress as interweaving environmental science and society by focusing on the way that nature mirrors our social ideas and actions – we are continually bombarded with images of our basic competitiveness, from our personal urges to the realm of corporate takeovers. After mentioning his involvement in the worldview of conservation biology, the author admits to being negligent of the value-ladden language and context in which sustainability is incorporated outside his personal area of interest.
While analyzing the Complexity theory as the direct line of scientific thinking and its interpretations for society and businesses (6), Thrift concludes that we should recognize the future as a space of possibility for subjects who believe that anything is possible. The availability of effective solutions is enhanced by the presence of various viewpoints, which is something we cannot achieve on our own as marketers, accountants etc. Moving beyond our conventional thinking is necessary to tackle the challenges while turning businesses into a force for good.
Please have a look at Maria’s blog here.
By Yolina Stoyanova, 29th April 2018
- WBCSD (2017). Clarifying the meaning of Sustainable Business
- Dyllick, T. and Muff, K. (2016) Clarifying the Meaning of Sustainable Business: Introducing a typology from Business-as-Usual to True Business Sustainability.
- Wright, C., & Nyberg, D. (2014). Creative self-destruction: corporate responses to climate change as political myths. Environmental Politics, 23(2), 205-223. P210
- Reynolds, P. (2013). Hotel companies and corporate environmentalism. Tourism & Management Studies, 9(1).
- Larson, B. (2011). Metaphors for environmental sustainability: redefining our relationship with nature. Yale University Press.
- Thrift, N. (1999). The place of complexity. Theory, Culture & Society, 16(3), 31-69.