Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sustainability as Organizational Culture: Uncovering Values, Practices, and Processes

Paul Stillman, School of Human and Organizational Development

Sustainability is a vital but contested topic. In this case study, I explored the experiences of people at all levels in organizations striving to embrace exemplary sustainable practices to uncover key cultural values, practices, and processes. The evolving concept of sustainability was applied within a conceptual framework of organizational culture, phronesis or practical wisdom, and systems theory to inform the empirical research. Twenty-nine on-site, openended, narrative interviews were conducted at four organizations, including a small solar energy company, a major state research university, an iconic outdoor apparel company, and a unique specialty food producer. Interviews were analyzed for sustainability-related primary codes and emergent themes and thematic codes were grouped into four major categories: (a) embedding the mission, (b) living the mission, (c) balancing ideals and practices, and (d) relationships matter. The experientially grounded findings support and refine a synthesized model of organizational sustainability that integrates cultural, phronetic, and systemsoriented elements. In addition, the findings yield a set of actionable values, practices, and processes associated with an organizational culture of sustainability. These benchmarks can, with further adaptation, be utilized to assess progress toward a culture of sustainability in aspiring organizations.

Keywords: sustainability, sustainable practices, organizational culture, phronesis, practical wisdom, systems theory.

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