Achieving Sustainable Development in Organisations

Introduction

Sustainability has become one of the critical issues in the contemporary business environment. Bansal affirms that sustainability acts as the bridge between the environment and development (197). Traditionally, sustainability was considered as one of the most important aspects in the operations of non-governmental organisations. However, over the past few years, the concept has become a major aspect in all contemporary business operations. The World Commission on Environment and Development [WCED] affirms that sustainable development “entails the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs” (Bansal 197).

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According to Bansal, the origin of sustainable business development can be traced back to the concept of environmental management (198). Thus, the past decades have been characterised by progressive appreciation of the contribution of the environment in enhancing the attainment of long-term business performance. This trend is evidenced by the remarkable growth in environmental rules and regulations that have been developed from the mid-1970s. Over the past few decades, different entities have emphasised on the importance of complying with environmental protection aspects such as minimising waste management. This need has arisen from the recognition of the importance of integrating effective management system as a critical element in promoting internal and external organisational capabilities.

Prior to the ratification of the environmental laws, most organisations were concerned with economic considerations. Thus, one can argue that sustainable development is mainly about social justice. In the contemporary global business environment, the concept of sustainability is increasingly being interpreted as a political, ecological, economic, social, and technological aspect. WCED emphasises that it is imperative for organisations to integrate the economic and environmental principles of sustainability simultaneously (Bansal 197). However, most organisations have approached the concept of sustainable development with a lot of scepticism due to the failure to understand the relationship of the four dimensions. Bansal affirms that the approach towards sustainable developed has changed considerably over the past few decades (197).

Problem statement

Both large and small enterprises have changed their perception of sustainable development. Chang and Kuo corroborate that businesses’ resistance to sustainable development has narrowed considerably, as evidenced by the growth in the rate of compliance to sustainability amongst diverse business entities (365). A considerable number of businesses have complied with the health, safety, and environmental regulations in the show of their support for sustainable development. The rate of compliance to sustainability is common amongst large entities that consider sustainability as a critical element in their business operations. However, business entities have emphasised on three main dimensions of sustainable development over the past decades, which include the economic, environmental, and social dimensions.

The economic sustainability dimension is founded on different theories such as the capital convertibility theory and the Hicks-Lindahl concept. The Hicks-Lindahl concept emphasises the importance of maximising income by ensuring optimal utilisation of scarce resources. Conversely, the social perspective to sustainability emphasises on maintaining a stable social system. Thus, an organisation develops a high degree of resilience and reduces vulnerability to diverse social issues. Bardy, Rubens, and Massaro emphasise that pursuing sustainable development is fundamental in dealing with conflicting aims, which include “stability-safety-environment and development-progress-growth” (26).

Businesses motivation towards pursuing sustainable development has arisen from the identification with its role in promoting the attainment of long-term business development. Moreover, Chang and Kuo accentuate that sustainable development is increasingly being perceived as a fundamental source of competitive advantage (367). Achieving sustainable development requires businesses to engage in the extensive transformation process that require firms to review their diverse operational aspects such as the production systems, technologies, and products amongst other internal elements.

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Despite firms’ pursuit for sustainable development, their effort has been skewed. Bansal affirms that the operationalisation of sustainable development in businesses has been weak (200). Consequently, the effectiveness of their sustainable development efforts in enhancing the organisations’ capacity to cope with the dynamic business environment is considerably limited. Bardy, Rubens, and Massaro assert that businesses are operating in an environment that has become very complex due to environmental, institutional, political, and social challenges (25). Over the past decades, organisations have approached the concept of sustainable development based on three main dimensions, which include economic, social, and environmental dimensions. Thus, the significance of the institutional dimension has largely been underestimated.

Purpose of the study

This study intends to evaluate how business organisations can implement the concept of sustainable development successfully by integrating an effective multidimensional approach to sustainable development. This goal will be achieved by evaluating the issues that business managers should consider in entrenching the economic, social, environmental, and institutional dimensions to sustainability.

Research question

In order to achieve the research purpose, the study will be based on the following research questions.

  1. What aspects can organisations consider in their pursuit for sustainable business development?
  2. How can organisations integrate the multi-dimensional approach in entrenching sustainable business development?
  3. What are the fundamental aspects that business organisations can take into consideration in order to integrate the institutional dimension to sustainability successfully?

Rationale of the study

The motivation to conduct the study has arisen from the identification of the importance of sustainability in enhancing an organisation’s competitive advantage. The degree of complexity in the global business environment has increased substantially over the past decades. Thus, businesses are experiencing diverse challenges emanating from the internal and external business environment. Some of the major sources of complexities are beyond businesses’ control. Examples of such forces include economic and social changes. Failure to adopt effective measures to deal with the emerging issues successfully can affect the attainment of business excellence adversely. Thus, businesses can limit the negative market forces from affecting their pursuit for competitive advantage adversely by adopting a multi-dimensional approach to sustainability. Consequently, firms will be in a position to enhance their long-term business excellence.

Significance of the research

The study will lead to the generation of important ideas and insight on how organisations can integrate an effective approach towards attaining sustainable development. Through the study, organisational managers will be in a position to identify gaps in their sustainable business development models. Thus, organisational leaders will gain additional knowledge on the most critical institutional aspects that they should consider in pursuing sustainable development.

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Literature review

The four perspectives of sustainable development

Economic perspective

This perspective is based on the concept of income maximisation. Thus, organisations should ensure that their operations and strategies are aligned with the stakeholders’ needs. Furthermore, the economic perspective underscores the importance of protecting and sustaining the available natural and human resources.

Ecological perspective

This dimension underscores the importance of ensuring a high degree of stability between the physical and biological systems. Organisations must ensure that their operations do not affect the ecological environment adversely. On the contrary, it is imperative for organisations to create a room for regeneration in order to protect the versatility of natural resources. The ecological perspective advocates the preservation of biodiversity in order to establish a balanced nature. By pursuing this perspective, organisations improve their probability of attaining future success. Bardy, Rubens, and Massaro emphasise that one-sided “decision making on environmental issues may affect the developing world” (26). Such occurrences might affect business operations directly or indirectly. Over the past years, businesses have recognised the relationship between the ecological dimension and their long-term success. This trend is evidenced by the rate at which business organisations are implementing strategies aimed at minimising their contribution to climate change (Bardy, Rubens and Massaro 26). Both profit and non-profit oriented organisations are increasingly pursuing energy efficient operations in order to minimise their greenhouse gas emissions.

Social perspective

Bardy, Rubens, and Massaro affirm that the social sustainability dimension is aimed at establishing a balance between a business operation and the prevailing social systems (27). Thus, organisations should ensure that their operations contribute to the preservation of social capital. Adopting the social perspective enhances an organisation’s capacity to resolve emerging economic, social, and environmental challenges. The social perspective is based on the ‘shared responsibility’ theory, which underscores the importance of developing a holistic approach by appreciating the interdependence and systematic between the biosphere and humanity. Bardy, Rubens, and Massaro accentuate that the pursuit for the social dimension may be limited by the existence of conflicting interests (26). For example, some stakeholders might advocate stability-safety-environment while others might be concerned with pursuing the development-progress-growth. Successful integration of the social perspective depends on the degree of interdependence and quality of an organisation’s practices, social capital, organisational capabilities, and the efficacy of the institutions. Bardy, Rubens, and Massaro emphasise that social order is a fundamental component of social sustainability (26).

Institutional perspective

The concept of sustainable development within organisations is based largely on the three dimensions. Thus, organisations have not fully understood the significance of the institutional perspective. Bardy, Rubens, and Massaro corroborate that successful implementation of the economic, social, and environmental dimensions depend on the developed organisational competencies (27). Therefore, it is imperative for organisational managers to focus on implementing effective organisational practices. Bardy, Rubens, and Massaro assert that ignoring “the institutional component is one of the biggest shortcomings of management when trying to implement sustainable development” (29).

Organisations operating in the developing countries are characterised by numerous institutional deficits that limit effective sustainable development. Some of the most notable deficiencies include lack of management expertise, ineffective human capital, low organisational productivity due to poor staff performance, corruption and embezzlement, and lack of organisational commitment amongst the organisational workforce (Bardy, Rubens and Massaro 29). Furthermore, a considerable number of organisations are characterised by extreme bureaucracies that affect the decision-making process. Despite the existence of the above institutional deficiencies, organisational have the capacity to transform their operations by adjusting their strategic management practices.

Interrelating the four perspectives

The concept of sustainable development espouses the importance of businesses establishing a balance between the internal and external business environments. Hahn et al. affirm that sustainable development has largely been based on three dimensions, which include the economic, social, and environmental dimensions (296). The three dimensions should operate in synchronisation with each other. This aspect means that organisations should seek to establish a win-win paradigm. Over the past years, most organisations have approached sustainable development by integrating the concept of corporate sustainability.

Different scholars are of the view that corporate sustainability demands organisations to develop a comprehensive understanding on the interconnection and interdependency amongst the three dimensions. However, Hahn et al. contend that the economic dimension has been a major priority in most organisations as opposed to the other three dimensions (298). Organisations can achieve a high competitive advantage by addressing the societal and environmental concerns. In addition to the above issues, Hahn et al. argue that lack of “consideration of tensions and conflicts contracts with the complex and multi-faceted nature of corporate sustainability” (298).

In their pursuit for sustainable development, organisations should appreciate the importance of adopting an integrative approach. Thus, business organisations should pursue the diverse dimensions to sustainability simultaneously in spite of the existence of contradictory aspects. Organisational managers should ensure that the contradictory issues are managed professionally. Firms should consider mapping the environmental, economic, and social dimensions’ side-by-side in the process of implementing the triple-bottom-line.

Hahn et al. disputes the applicability of the triple-bottom-line in enhancing the attainment of long-term sustainability (300). In their opinion, the concept does not underscore the importance of developing a coherent understanding on how the three dimensions are related. Failure to appreciate the systematic relationship amongst the three issues underscores the existence of gap within the three dimensions. Therefore, academicians and practitioners must invest in undertaking further conceptual development in order to improve the efficacy of the integrative approach to sustainability. Currently, organisations’ pursuit for sustainability is based on the extent to which it contributes to the improvement in their economic performance (Hahn et al. 300). This aspect shows that the win-win paradigm to sustainability is purely economic in nature. Hahn et al. assert that corporate sustainability “boils down to a business approach that creates long-term shareholder value by embracing opportunities and managing risk from the three dimensions” (299).

Most studies conducted on sustainability have largely been based on the win-win paradigm. This aspect means that the studies have ignored the trade-offs associated with sustainable development. The trade-offs refer to the compromises that are encountered in pursuing a particular area. Additionally, past studies on the three dimensions have adopted a simplistic approach. Thus, the studies have not fully appreciated the multi-faceted and complexity associated with sustainable development. Hahn et al. argue that failure to appreciate the existence of trade-off associated with corporate sustainability limits organisations to attain the most desirable results (302). Consequently, it is imperative for organisational leaders to undertake a cost-benefit analysis on all the dimensions. The win-win approach to corporate sustainability emphasises the implementation of corporate sustainability by providing conflict-free solutions. This aspect shows that the policy adopted may not culminate in fundamental organisational transformation.

In order to improve the contribution of the four dimensions of sustainable development, it is imperative for organisational managers to integrate the most effective model. Ignoring any of the four dimensions to sustainability affects the successful attainment of the desired outcome. According to Hahn et al., the implementation of sustainable development should be implemented systematically (303). Thus, organisations should consider four main levels, which include the Meta level, micro level, macro level, and the meso level. The meso level focuses on the institutional frameworks and networks while the macro level underscores the importance of taking into account the monetary, fiscal, and effective distribution conditions. Conversely, the micro level is focused on the consumers and the enterprise while the Meta level focuses on the social precepts.

Methodology

Research design

The objective of this study is to examine how organisations can improve their approach to sustainability. Thus, the research study will lead to the generation of ideas and insight on how organisations can integrate sustainability successfully in their pursuit for long-term excellence. Therefore, the study will integrate the exploratory research design. The exploratory research design is aimed at generating insight and ideas and to gather information that can be applied in dealing with the administrative problem. The exploratory research design will enable organisations to identify gaps/problems in their current sustainability models. The exploratory research design makes the study qualitative in nature. However, in order to improve the outcome of the study, the researcher will ensure that the mixed research design is used. This goal will be achieved by integrating both the qualitative and quantitative research designs. The decision to adopt the mixed research design has been informed by the need to improve the quality of the study. First, the qualitative research design will enable the researcher to gather descriptive data from diverse sources. Thus, a sufficient amount of data to support the study will be gathered. Conversely, the quantitative research design will contribute to the improvement in the quality of the study. This goal will be achieved by integrating effective quantitative data analysis tools and techniques.

Data collection and sampling

The research study will source data from both primary and secondary sources. The primary sources of data will involve conducting focus group interview. The group interview will be comprised of organisational managers who will comprise the study population. The organisational managers will be selected from well-established organisations. The researcher will identify organisations that have integrated sustainability into their operations. Thus, the study population will include organisational managers of well-established entities. The decision to incorporate organisational managers in the focus group interview has arisen from the realisation of their deep knowledge on the concept of sustainable business development and its role in business operations. Individuals in a focus group interview are experts with reference to a particular aspect under investigation.

In the process of selecting the respondents, the researcher will integrate the simple random sampling technique. This technique will aid in eliminating bias in the process of constructing the study sample. Thus, all individuals in diverse levels of management within the target organisations will have an equal opportunity of being incorporated in the research study. The focus group will be comprised of 10 respondents.

In addition to focus group interview, the research design technique will also involve conducting an exploratory literature review. Thus, the researcher will consider the past studies on sustainable development conducted by other researchers. Conducting exploratory literature review will provide the researcher with insight into issues regarding sustainable development undertaken by other researchers. Additionally, the literature review technique is critical to understanding the context of the research problem under investigation. McNabb contends that the exploratory literature review technique enables researchers to rationalise the importance of the issue under investigation (99). This aspect means that it will be possible for the researcher to determine with a high degree of certainty on the issues that should be emphasised in the proposed study. McNabb is of the opinion that the “exploratory literature review can become an integral part of the research report and provide the researcher with background information” (99).

In the process of applying the exploratory literature review design, the researcher will consider a number of issues. First, the researcher will ensure that the exploratory literature review is based on credible studies. Thus, the researcher will mainly source data from peer-reviewed journals, reports, books, and articles by credible institutions. By selecting these sources, the researcher will be in a position to generate a wide range of data. Furthermore, sourcing data from these sources will increase the credibility of the research study. Therefore, the validity of the research study will be improved remarkably.

In the process of collecting data from the focus group, the researcher will use questionnaires as the data collection instrument. A set of well-designed questionnaires comprising of open and close-ended questionnaires will be developed. The decision to integrate the two designs in developing the research questionnaire arises from the identification of their effectiveness in gathering sufficient and relevant data. Applying the two designs in the questionnaire will enable the researcher to gather qualitative and quantitative data. The open-ended questionnaires will enable the researcher to collect qualitative data by requiring the respondents to provide the answer in the description form. On the other hand, the close-ended questions will aid in gathering discrete answer on some issues. The research questionnaires will be reviewed in order to eliminate the ambiguity that might affect adversely the quality of the response offered by the selected respondents.

One of the tools that will be used in the close-ended questionnaires includes the Likert Scale. The Likert scale will mainly be based on 5 points, which will enable the researcher to assess the respondents’ opinion on sustainable development. In the process of collecting data using the focus group interview, the researcher will use recorders in order to gather additional data that the researcher might provide during the interviewing process. This aspect will play a fundamental role in enriching the quality of the data collected.

Data presentation and analysis

The data obtained using the will be analysed quantitatively in order to improve its relevance to the target audience. Quantitative data analysis will be achieved by incorporating the Microsoft Excel application. This application will give the researcher an opportunity to analyse and present the data using different tools such as graphs, tables, and percentages. Thus, the researcher will be in a position to condense the data gathered.

Reflection

The researcher recognises that the study might face a number of challenges. One of the most notable challenges entails resource constraints. The outcome of any research study depends on the availability of resources with reference to time and finances. In a bid to avoid these obstacles, the researcher will incorporate effective time and financial management strategies. Additionally, in a bid to minimise the financial cost involved in the study, the researcher will distribute the questionnaires electronically using emails of the selected respondents. In addition, the focus group interview will be conducted using telephone. On top of the above challenges, the researcher appreciates that the study might

In the course of conducting the study, the researcher will consider a number of issues in order to improve the research outcome. One of the most important aspects that the researcher will take into account entails ethics. The study has integrated focus group interview as one of the research methodologies to be used in the study. The focus group interview will be comprised of a number of managers selected from different organisations. The research study will delve into organisational issues that some firms might consider as confidential in their operations due to their contribution to competitive advantage. Thus, some of the target organisations might be hesitant to provide the necessary information. However, the researcher will focus on influencing the identified organisation to provide the required information.

In a bid to achieve this goal, the researcher will seek permission from the relevant authorities in each of the organisations that the research intends to focus the study. In order to gain authorisation from the organisation, the researcher will ensure that the firms’ management teams understand the purpose of the study. For example, the researcher will make sure that the target organisations understand that the research study is for academic purposes. Thus, the information gathered will not be used in a way that might make the organisation feel disadvantaged such as divulging it to competitors. Consequently, the researcher will eliminate any possible suspicion that the firms might associate with the study.

In order to increase the rate of participation in the study, the researcher will integrate a high degree of confidentiality. For example, the names of the respondents in the focus group will not be revealed to the public. This aspect will aid in eliminating hesitation amongst the target audience in providing the required information. In addition to the above aspect, the researcher will ensure that the selected respondents participate in the research study freely. This goal will be achieved by avoiding practices that the selected respondent might consider as coercive. Furthermore, the respondents will have an opportunity to pull out of the research study without any implications. Considering these aspects will increase the rate of participation.

Conclusion

Sustainability has become a fundamental issue in organisations’ pursuit for long-term business excellence. Over the past few decades, business and non-business oriented organisations have been appreciating the importance of incorporating sustainable development in attaining sufficient competitive advantage. Some of the dimensions that business entities have pursued in incorporating sustainable development include the economic, social and environmental dimensions.

The motivation towards sustainable development has both been intentional and non-intentional. With reference to intentional motivation, businesses have integrated the concept of economic sustainability in order to maximise their shareholders’ value. On the other hand, non-intentional motivation towards sustainability has mainly arisen from the pressure by government and non-government institutions. For example, business organisations are experiencing intense pressure from social and environmental activist groups to entrench the social and environmental dimensions in their pursuit for sustainable development. This trend is evidenced by the emergence of numerous rules and regulations focusing on the environmental and social dimensions. For example, businesses are required to operate in a socially responsible manner. This aspect has led to the development of corporate social responsibility practices. Moreover, businesses have an obligation to ensure that their operations do not contribute to environmental pollution. Despite their pursuit for sustainability, the approaches adopted by most firms have not contributed to sustainability. On the contrary, their ineffective approaches have led to a reduction in organisational value.

This study will identify and address the possible source of gaps in organisations’ sustainability processes. Subsequently, the study will provide organisations insight on how to improve their approach towards sustainable development.

Time scale

In a bid to undertake the study successfully, a number of activities will be undertaken. It is expected that the study will be completed within a period of three months. Effective time management practices will be incorporated in order to ensure that the study is completed within the set timeframe. Consequently, the researcher will minimise the likelihood of incurring additional resource requirement. The Gantt chart below depicts some of the critical activities that will be undertaken and the expected duration of the respective activities. The researcher assumes that the research process will be free from any issues that might affect the completion of the research activities within the projected timeframe.

Research activity Weeks
[April –June 2015]
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Submission of the research proposal
Meeting the research supervisor in order to seek support and advice on the research proposal
Conducting exploratory literature review
Developing the research methodology
Seeking authorisation on research study from the relevant authorities
Developing the research questionnaire to be used in conducting the focus group interview
Administering the research questionnaires
Data collection
Analysing the data collected
Compiling the research findings
Compiling the final study
Submitting the research study

Works Cited

Bansal, Pratima. “Evolving sustainability; a longitudinal study of corporate sustainable development.” Strategic Management Journal 26. 2 (2005): 197-218. Print.

Bardy, Roland, Arthur Rubens, and Maurizio Massaro. “The systematic dimension of sustainable development in developing countries.” Journal of Organisational Transformation & Social Change 12.1 (2015)” 22-41. Print.

Chang, Dong, and Regina Kuo. “The effects of sustainable development on firm’s financial performance; an empirical approach.” Sustainable Development 16.2 (2008): 365-380. Print.

Hahn Tobias, Jonathan Pinkse, Lutz Preuss, and Frank Figge. “Tensions in corporate sustainability; towards and integrative approach.” Journal of Business Ethics 2.3 (2015)” 297-316. Print.

McNabb, David. Research methods for political science; quantitative and qualitative Methods, Armonk: M.E Sharpe, 2004. Print.

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