Improve Your Sustainability Programs Through Organizational Learning

Leo Wong September 26, 2017
How can sustainability knowledge be diffused among colleagues and employees? A number of factors facilitate organizational learning, and the results of the learning processes. By examining six business cases, the authors find that both internal factors and external factors influence learning. Internal factors include ideas that promote learning, leadership styles, how information is communicated internally and the presence of change agents. External factors included stakeholder pressure and government regulation.

BackgroundIn managing sustainability activities, managers typically focus on improving performance or redesigning strategies. They often neglect the importance and role of learning in implementing changes. Organizational learning is key to embedding sustainability in companies, yet the research in this area is sparse. As companies increasingly engage in sustainable business practices, the importance of understanding how to continuously learn about sustainability—and spread this learning across the business—becomes critical.

Findings

Implications for Managers

Implications for Researchers

Future research can examine how the demand for sustainable products can be increased to create an impetus for ongoing organizational learning in the context of sustainability. Researchers may also examine how structures for sustainability-related learning relate to sustainability and corporate principles in general. 

Methods

 This paper analyzes six business cases of medium and large-sized companies relating to their sustainability objectives by conducting group interviews and follow-up surveys. The authors interpreted their results using a conceptual framework of sustainable learning processes. 
Siebenhüner, Bernd. & Arnold, Marlen. (2007). Organizational learning to manage sustainable development. Business Strategy and the Environment. 16, 339-353. 

additional resources

News and Events

Advice on teaching sustainability from business school sustainability centre directors, gathered at the 2016 NBS Sustainability Centres Workshop at INSEAD.

Chelsea Hicks-Webster
Success Story

Students learn about sustainability when exposed to topics incrementally, throughout their degree. University of Colorado staff describe the approach.

Chelsea Hicks-Webster
Article

Researchers have uncovered an exciting path forward for many organizations – one that upends common assumptions about organizational change.

Maya Fischhoff