Sub-theme 21: Sustainable Enterprise Evolution: Combining Individual-, Firm- and System-Level Perspectives

Arnaldo Camuffo
Bocconi University, Milan, Italy
Kerstin Neumann
Bocconi University, Milan, Italy
Maurizio Zollo
Bocconi University, Milan, Italy

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 adaptation.

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,


Arnaldo Camuffo is Professor of Business Organization and Director of the PhD Program in Business Administration and Management at the Department of Management and Technology of Bocconi University, Milan, Italy. His research interests lie in lean production, modularity, organizational architectures, high performance work practices and sustainable human resource management. He serves as a member of the Academy of Management, of the European Academy of Management, of the Strategic Management Society, of the Industry Studies Association, and of the Decision Science Institute.
Kerstin Neumann is Assistant Professor of Strategy at the Department of Strategy and Innovation WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria. Her research focuses on external corporate development activities (alliances, M&A) and how to integrate the stakeholder theory of the firm in the study of corporate growth. She is a member of the Academy of Management, of the European Academy of Management and of the Strategic Management Society.
Maurizio Zollo is the Chaired Professor in Strategy and Corporate Responsibility and Director of the Center for Research in Organization and Management (CROMA) at Bocconi University, Milan, Italy. His research focuses on mergers & acquisitions, corporate strategy, strategic alliances, organizational learning, and social responsibility. He currently serves as president elect of EURAM and is one of the co-founders of the Academy of Business in Society. He has also co-founded the Stakeholder Strategy Interest Group of the Strategic Management Society and was past member of Executive Committee of the BPS division of the Academy of Management. He also serves as editor of the European Management Review and as associate for several leading academic journals in the strategy and organization studies fields.