Sub-theme 21: Sustainable Enterprise Evolution: Combining Individual-, Firm- and System-Level Perspectives
Call for Papers
With this sub-theme we would like to bridge the research communities studying evolutionary processes at different levels
of analysis with those focused on the various dimensions of sustainability to advance our understanding of the learning and
change challenges connected to embedding sustainability in business firms. In fact, the study of evolutionary processes in
firms and industries has focused primarily on behavioural outcomes (e.g. organizational routines) and innovation processes,
neglecting other fundamental aspects of organizational evolution such as the dynamics of change and learning in competitive
and growth strategies, structure and power, shared values and identity, individual traits (cognitive beliefs, emotional dispositions,
motivational drivers, etc.), and all the various dimensions of firm culture, including the firm's purpose. Additionally, the
study of organizational evolution has so far proceeded under the assumption that fit is based on purely economic measures
of performance, without explicit consideration of the firm's social and environmental impacts. On the other hand, scholars
of social and environmental sustainability tend to focus their work on the external dynamics linking the firm with its socio-political/natural
environment. In doing so, they typically pay relatively little attention to the internal dynamics of change, learning and
The sub-theme would thus invite scholars from different theoretical perspectives to submit theoretical and empirical papers addressing the evolutionary processes characterizing the integration of sustainability within the following firm dimensions: purpose, strategy, governance, organizational structure, learning, sensing, culture, individual traits and systemic change.
Theoretical and managerial contribution
The simultaneous pursuit of economic,
environmental and social performance outcomes is rapidly becoming a strategic priority for enterprises across sectors and
geographical regions. However, the factors influencing the ability of firms to adapt to expectations on the sustainability
of their behaviours and impacts are still largely unclear, and managing the learning and change processes necessary to tackle
the sustainability challenge are perceived by firms as increasingly difficult. We are struggling to develop conceptual frames
and empirical evidence on these particularly complex evolutionary processes. Moreover, the need for empirical foundations
for a stakeholder-based view of the firm has been voiced by several authors.
This sub-theme has the potential to advance our understanding of the learning and change challenges connected to integrating sustainability in organizations. It could help filling fundamental gaps in the extant theories of organizational evolution by providing a forum to discuss the evolution of managerial and organizational cognition related to the purpose, strategy and culture. Moreover, understanding the interdependent dynamics of system-level change with the firms' ability to affect core strategic or structural change consequent to stakeholder expectations is missing in the current debate. Finally, we are missing a coherent study of the micro-foundations of these evolutionary processes, particularly the evolution of individuals' knowledge, motivation and values towards the traits that facilitate sustainable decisions, behaviour and outcomes.
An international community of scholars focusing on these questions is already emerging around a major collaborative research program, the Global Organizational Learning and Development Network (GOLDEN, www.goldenforsustainability.org).