Business Sustainability: From business as usual to true sustainability

In a first phase of sustainability engagements the relevant concerns considered by business mostly shift from purely economic concerns to include social and environmental concerns related to sustainability issues faced by society. As the values created remain firmly attached to the generation of shareholder value, this is not more than a “refined shareholder value management”. We call this Business Sustainability 1.0.

In a more advanced phase the value created by business shifts from shareholder value to a broadened value proposition including people, planet, and profit. What results is a “management of the triple bottom line” which we call Business Sustainability 2.0.

In a most advanced form the organizational perspective shifts from an inside‐out perspective, with a focus on the business, to an outside‐in perspective, with a focus on society and the sustainability challenges it is facing. This shift results in the associated redefinition of strategies being driven by sustainability challenges thus reframing the business concerns and business models, as well as the associated redefinition in values created. What results from this is Business Sustainability 3.0 or “true business sustainability” as the most advanced form of business sustainability. The focus shifts from reducing the negative impact of business to making a positive impact in critical and relevant areas for society and the planet. Only true business sustainability holds the promise to overcome the big disconnect between the sustainability issues society is facing and business contributions.

(Based on: Dyllick, T./Muff, K.: Clarifying the meaning of sustainable business. Introducing a typology from business-as-usual to true business sustainability, June 2016. Published in: Organization & Environment.)


Clarifying the meaning of sustainable business
Introducing a typology from business-as-usual to true business sustainability
Sustainability in business has become a buzz word. But what does it actually mean? And how do existing models measure up to the sustainability challenge that business and society are facing? While sustainability management is becoming more widespread among major companies, the impact of their activities do not reflect in studies monitoring the state of the planet and society. What are the reasons for this “big disconnect”? And how can business make an effective contribution to resolving the economic, societal and environmental challenges we are collectively facing? When is business truly sustainable? This paper clarifies the meaning of business sustainability by systematically reviewing established approaches and introduces a typology of business sustainability. It provides a framework for scholars and professionals to engage in the transformation of business, moving from business-as-usual to “true business sustainability”. Sections 1 and 2 set the stage by looking at the big disconnect between business sustainability and the global challenges of sustainable development. Section 3 analyzes existing approaches and models of business sustainability. Section 4 develops a typology for business sustainability reaching from Business Sustainability 1.0 (Refined Shareholder Value Management) to Business Sustainability 3.0 (True Sustainability). Section 5 presents a summary and conclusions.

View the BST Typology abstract.

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