Sub-theme 29: Rethinking Enterprise Models for the Future: Organizational Evolution towards Sustainability

Arnaldo Camuffo
Bocconi University, Milan, Italy
Kerstin Neumann
Bocconi University, Milan, Italy
Stefano Brusoni
ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Call for Papers


With this sub-theme, we would like to tackle some of the key unanswered questions related to the organizational change and learning challenges that companies face as they identify, make sense and manage sustainability issues and rapidly evolving stakeholder expectations on corporate behaviour. We focus on the following research question: How do firms learn to integrate and manage sustainability by rethinking and reshaping their enterprise model?


The concept of sustainability is generally referred to as the capacity of a system to develop in ways that do not undermine its own viability in the long term. More precisely, sustainability has been defined as the ability "to specify actions that will not diminish the prospects of future persons to enjoy levels of consumption, wealth, utility, or welfare comparable to those enjoyed by present persons" (Bromley, 2008). At the firm level, the notion of sustainability has taken meanings related to the capacity of the business organization to serve purposes that includes not only the maximization of shareholders' wealth, but also the minimization of negative environmental impacts and the contribution to improving the quality of life in communities in which the firm operates. The appropriate boundaries of business firms' responsibilities, however, are still very much a question of debate. Less debatable, though, is the positive correlational link between economic, environmental and social performance dimensions (Margolis & Walsh, 2003; Orlitzky et al., 2003) and the positive effect of highly developed sustainability practices on long-term economic performance (Eccles et al., 2011).


Even if the long-standing debate on the "business case" for sustainability is assumed to be settled, however, the characterization of the defining traits of a sustainable enterprise model within a given socio-economic system is still very much an open question. An enterprise model goes beyond the usual notion of business model and includes organizational dimensions like shared purpose/values and culture. This distinction is important because it highlights the complexity of the challenge involved in integrating principles of sustainability in the "softer" elements of the enterprise model, in addition to the changes in their "harder" counterparts.

To date, the study of evolutionary processes has focused primarily on behavioural outcomes (e.g. organizational routines) and product/process innovation, neglecting other fundamental aspects of organizational evolution, e.g. 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.), firm culture and purpose. Additionally, the study of organizational evolution has so far proceeded assuming that fit is based on purely economic performance measures, without explicit consideration of the firm's social and environmental impacts. Also, scholars of social and environmental sustainability tend to focus their work on the external dynamics linking the firm with its socio-political/natural environment. Thus, relatively little attention (also regarding to empirical evidence) is typically paid to the internal dynamics of change, learning and adaptation.

The sub-theme would thus invite scholars from different theoretical perspectives and knowledge domains within and beyond organization studies to submit conceptual, simulation and empirical papers addressing the change and learning processes characterizing the integration of sustainability within different elements of an enterprise model.



Bromley, Daniel W. (2008): 'Sustainability.' In: Steven N. Durlauf & Lawrence E. Blume (eds.): The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics Online, second edition. Palgrave Macmillan,>doi:10.1057/9780230226203.1656
Eccles, Robert G., Ioannis Ioannou & George Serafeim (2011): The Impact of Corporate Sustainability on Organizational Processes and Performance. Harvard Business School Working Paper 12-035.
Margolis, Joshua D. & James P. Walsh (2003): ' Misery Loves Companies: Rethinking Social Initiatives by Business.' Administrative Science Quarterly, 48 (2), pp. 268–305.
Orlitzky, Marc, Frank L. Schmidt & Sara L. Rynes (2003): 'Corporate Social and Financial Performance: A Meta-Analysis.' Organization Studies, 24 (3), pp. 403–441.


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, the European Academy of Management, the European Group for Organizational Studies, the Strategic Management Society, the Industry Studies Association, and the Decision Science Institute.
Kerstin Neumann is Senior Researcher at CRIOS (Center for Research in Innovation, Organization and Strategy) of Bocconi University, Milan, Italy. Her research focuses on external corporate development activities, particularly the sustainable management of 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, the European Group for Organizational Studies, the European Academy of Management, and the Strategic Management Society.
Stefano Brusoni is Professor of Technology and Innovation Management at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. His research interests include modularity and the strategic implications of product design strategies; knowledge production processes, integration and distribution at individual and organizational level; qualitative and neuropsychological research methods. He is currently Editor (Continental Europe) of 'Industrial and Corporate Change' and Editorial Board Member of 'Organization Science', 'Strategic Management Journal' and 'Academy of Management Discoveries'. He is Program Chair of the Knowledge and Innovation Interest Group of the Strategic Management Society.