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How organizations can contribute to a more sustainable future

Science Works

Hunger, inequality, climate change… Today’s world faces many great challenges on individual, organizational and societal level. What role can organizations play in the solutions and how can new forms of organizing contribute? “The main question is how to achieve extraordinary things with ordinary people” says organizational scientist Jörg Raab. Together with Federica Angeli, Ashley Metz and a group of international co-authors, he wrote a new book on organizing for Sustainable Development. “Our ambition is to consolidate and advance the contribution of Organization and Management Studies towards the pursuit of Sustainable Development.”

“Our new book responds to a compelling call to develop a finer-grained understanding of novel forms of organizing that can more efficiently and effectively channel resources whilst developing new norms and values towards a more sustainable future.” 

It is without doubt that organizations, whether they are businesses, NGO’s or network organizations, play a part in the required changes for a sustainable future. Knowledge developed in Organization Studies can play a part in accelerating and deepening the required transformation. “Organizations and organizing comes down to division of labor and integration of efforts”, says Associate Professor Jörg Raab. “There are many theories on different forms of organizations and how these coincide with the system in general, but basically everything fits in these two boxes. The way we get to joined goals, divide tasks and coordinate input, sometimes with two or three people and sometimes hundreds of thousands. This is how we eventually achieve the transformation that is needed but it also makes it difficult, because organizations can also be rigid and resist change.”

“However, context is key”, says Assistant Professor of Organization Studies Ashley Metz. “Our students will learn about the organizational perspective, but it is also important to understand and appreciate the complexity of the situation as a whole. There is not one part that you can take in isolation as a solution. We overview different organizational lenses, perspectives, theories and forms, but there is a limit to what an individual organization can do.”

Circular

“Organization Studies focuses on the structure, culture, goals and strategies of all types of organizations. The world in which organizations have to operate is getting more and more complex. There is interaction and interdependency between organizations, stakeholders, and the system in which they operate. We are just at the beginning of understanding what ingredients we require for change”, says Jörg Raab. “A recent example is the clothing industry where they have five turnovers of their collections each year and if they can’t sell it is just dumped. This is a big question about the business model: how you get from an enormous waist of recourses and environmental damage to a circular economy? We see that change is necessary, but it is very difficult to change existing structures. We try to untangle why this is.”

Jorg

“We see that change is necessary, but it is very difficult to change existing structures. We try to untangle why this is.”

- Jörg Raab

Disconnect

Federica Angeli is Professor of Management and Director of Research at the University of York: “There seems to be a disconnect between what academics have in mind and the strategies that are developed by multinational corporations. A good example is the base of the pyramid theory. The idea is that at the base of the market pyramid, you find the people with very low income and little to nothing to spend. Because this group is very large, companies could take a very small margin and still make a profit. Doing good by doing well is the idea. Unfortunately, practice proved to be more complex. First of all, the enormous heterogeneity within the population was completely disregarded. There is no one size fits all. Secondly, companies put emphasis on affordability while the main issue is that people should be aware of the product, they should understand how it could benefit them and they must trust it – namely, the socio-cultural acceptability of it. And so it could be that a lifesaving diarrhea medicine for children in India did not sell, even though it was affordable, harmless, effective and easy to use. Only because it was disregarded that parents did not trust the product or the doctors who try to persuade them.” 

“There is a disconnect between what academics have in mind and the way the multinational corporation strategies play out”

Untangle

“With our book we want to make an attempt to close this gap and learn from the shortcomings of different approaches. We untangle and defragment different theories and practices on how organizations can contribute to sustainable development. Also, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of the connection between different theoretical discourses and their evolution over time, to build a basis for knowledge accumulation in this field. This way we hope to give students and academics an overview of academic studies into for example base of the pyramid, corporate responsibility and hybrid organizing. Via these academics and students’ knowledge finds its way into organizations. Because we have also added examples from practice, the book could be interesting for academically trained practitioners as well.”

Federica

Doing good by doing well is the idea. Unfortunately, practice proved to be more complex.

- Federica Angeli

ashleymetz

Our students will learn about the organizational perspective, but it is also important to understand and appreciate the complexity of the situation as a whole.

- Ashley Metz

Want to know more?

The book ‘Organizing for Sustainable Development is now available. A launch workshop with academics and practitioners is organized on May 16, from 15.00 – 17.30 hours in S8 (Pavilion) Simon Building, Campus Tilburg University and online via Zoom. Academic staff can still register until Friday May 13.

Register here