Ecological and Social Sustainability

Subject: Management
Pages: 5
Words: 1539
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: PhD

The financial instability of the recent times demanded from each organization and from each leader revising the main parameters of actions such as, changes in strategies, accurate definition of goals, and downsizing separate expense items. In such conditions, the role of strategic choices of organizational designs sufficiently increases. In that sense, the organizational design could be defined as the process of reducing uncertainty during decision-making for corresponding tasks and goals by dividing the labor among organizational structures and people within these structures.

The task of organizational design is to support the internal coordination of such actions. The essence and the role of strategic management in such formulation are implementing flexible regulations, and adjusting the changes which will allow achieving reaching goals in a long-term perspective.

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The interconnection of the choices of organizational designs allows concluding that any changes in task and goals demand the changes in strategy, the structure, information system, and the system of employees’ appraisal which are capable to realize in practice the new requirements that flow from the new tasks. In that sense, the choice of organizational design requires consideration based on the set demands. Accordingly, this paper overviews the organizational design issues providing recommendations for implementing models that support organizational sustainability.

Literature Review

Outlining the reasons for sustainability failures within organizations, several factors could be outlined. Such factors include limited understanding of sustainability, the inability to implement the principles in practice, the time-cost factor, and the lack of support. (“Becoming an Ecologically Sustainable Organization; the Importance of Learning”). In that regard, sustainability can be seen as “a concept embedded in a larger theory about how the ecological system and the social system must relate to each other in order to remain intact over long periods of time. “(Jennings and Zandbergen).

Analyzing the practices that are promoting sustainability and implemented within large and small organizations there are diverse examples. For example WEC, a Canadian company selling sports gear, emphasized the promotion of sustainability through recruitment as well as a “green building programme”, analyzing garbage audits, enforcing a vendor and supplier code of conduct, and local store initiatives to promote local development and partnerships with community organizations. (Fenwick). In general sustainability practices could be categorized into elements such as decentralization, diversity, emphasis on connections, shared focus, constraints, and feedback. (Fenwick).

Opposing the approach that sustainability is only about values, the Natural step organization argues that while values are nevertheless important, “strategic planning towards social and ecological sustainability demands increased competence amongst our leaders.” (Robèrt). The personal responsibility of the leaders, in that sense, is in developing two main characteristics, i.e. emphasis on education and a systemic structure of emergence. (Fenwick).

Thus, learning and education in the organization are connected with the awareness that should be promoted. This awareness pushed by the strive for sustainability is planned as a strategy for a longer period, rather than for three-five years strategic plan, as the awareness should be built into the core values of the company. In that matter, the definition of sustainability and sustainable business can be defined as the business “that is conducted with both an awareness of, and consideration for, the impact on the physical and social environments, both directly and indirectly, now and in the future. The awareness and consideration are manifest through decisions, policies, actions, and reactions.” (Marcus).

Sustainable development as a concept can differ from sustainable practices in a way that it represents continuous activities directed toward seriously engaging the idea of sustainability. Sustainable development, in that sense, can be defined as the development which “is based on economic activity that recognizes the finite or vulnerable nature of the Earth’s resources and the need to use them judiciously. It seeks to pace development in a manner that does not jeopardize the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” .(Paul Shrivastava).

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The motivational forces that might promote the organizations to turn sustainable include such aspects as the increase of international regulations, customers’ demand for environmental criteria, the ethical and moral responsibility toward the future generations, and a global requirement for entering new emerging markets. (Paul Shrivastava).


The main selected model for implementing sustainable organizational design is the method of the learning organization. It can be seen that education plays a major role within the context of sustainability. In that regard, the steps which will integrate the theoretical framework into practice can be summarized as follows:

  • Defining social and environmental objectives.
  • Listing the organization’s principles.
  • Integrating the principles into objectives.
  • Controlling and motoring.

The Method Overview

The selection of the method denoted as the learning organization, which principles were described by Peter Senge in his book “The Fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization”, was motivated by the definition of the learning organization. In that regard, the learning organization can be defined as the organization in which “people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” (Senge 3).

In a concept presented by Natural Step, a nonprofit organization researching sustainable development, “backcasting” (“Backcasting”), is a way in which the goals of the organization can be planned based on imagining a successful outcome. In that sense, the goals which should be reached, in the case of a successful implementation of the model are:

  • Reduced environmental impact
  • High resource productivity
  • High corporal responsibility
  • Environmental awareness
  • Shared vision throughout the organization

Accordingly, the principles of the learning organization stated by Senge, include the following disciplines:

  • The mastery of personal perfection, i.e. reducing the gap between the vision of the goals and the perception of the reality.
  • Shared Vision, i.e. creating a vision of the company which will be adopted by the employees.
  • Mental models, i.e. accepting the changes of the company’s new image and the ability to quickly adapt to it.
  • Team Learning, i.e. establishing a dialogue within groups through effective communication.
  • System thinking, i.e. the ability to percept the whole picture rather than separate issues.

Integrating the established goals to a sustainable organization through these disciplines can be seen through relating each concept with the set goals. In that sense, a shared vision which the company should adopt would be the new corporal values derived from the objectives. Through encouraging team learning, the result which could have not been achieved individually will be accessible.

Through system thinking, the company should learn to address major issues rather than spate segments. In that sense, the employee would have to engage in the company’s goals through understanding the interrelations within the different departments and the company’s different supply chains. The mastery of personal perfection can be seen through encourage the employees for implementing sustainable practices. Such practices might include participation in different waste reduction programs, social voluntary activities, personal initiatives, etc.

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It can be seen that organizational sustainability is not a matter of total replacement of the economical factor of the organization with a purely ecologic and social objective. It is more of a compromise, which in the long term will become a standard in organizational designs. The implemented method allows for a smooth integration, where the desired outcomes will be reached through infusing the corporal vision of the company into the employee’s values.

This way raising the awareness in the company will eventually raise such awareness in the society, which will become a part of general sustainability development. In that sense, the discipline of the learning organization is a general method by which the company will incorporate changes, where changes in the organization will act as changes agents in the whole system. Changes in attitudes and behaviors are small changes that will lead to global changes such as the usage of natural resources, conserving nature, and the contribution to environmental sustainability.

Works Cited

“Backcasting”. 2009. The Natural Step. Web.

“Becoming an Ecologically Sustainable Organization; the Importance of Learning.” Development and Learning in Organizations 22.3: 28-30.

Boschetti, J.C. Wandemberg. “Sustainable by Design? Economic Development and Natural Resource Use”. Sustainable Systems International. 2009. Web.

DRISCOLL, CATHY. “Ecological Sustainability: Essential Sustainability for Business Organizations.” The Workplace Review 3.2 (2006): 11-15.

Fenwick, Tara. “Developing Organizational Practices of Ecological Sustainability; a Learning Perspective.” Leadership & Organization Development Journal 28.7: 632-45.

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Handfield, R.B. , et al. “Integrating Environmental Concerns into the Design Process: The Gap between Theory and Practice.” Engineering Management 48.2 (2001): 189-208.

Jennings, P. Devereaux, and Paul A. Zandbergen. “Ecologically Sustainable Organizations: An Institutional Approach.” Academy of Management. The Academy of Management Review 20.4 (1995): 1015.

Marcus, Susan Elizabeth. “Strategic Decision-Making in Organizations That Value Financial, Social, and Environmental Sustainability.” ProQuest Dissertations and Theses 0454.0180: 164 p.

Paul Shrivastava, Stuart Hart. “Creating Sustainable Corporations.” Business Strategy and the Environment 4.3 (1995): 154-65.

Robèrt, Karl-Henrik. “Social, Ecological and Economic Sustainability”. 2005. The Natural Step.

Roome, Nigel J. Sustainability Strategies for Industry : The Future of Corporate Practice. Greening of Industry Network Series. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998.

Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline : The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Rev. and illustrated ed. New York: Random House, Inc., 2006.

“Steps toward Sustainability”. 2009. The Natural Step. Web.