Sustainability at the Academy of Management

The Best Business Schools& Admissions Secrets - Chioma Isiadinso_55.jpg

I am away from Maine for a few days to attend the meeting of the Academy of Management (AOM). For the uninitiated, the Academy is the Pantheon of business school faculties. The annual meeting is a big gathering, attracting over 7000 attendees. This year is special because the Academy has chosen sustainability as its theme. This in itself is a big deal as sustainability and its predecessor, environmental management, have long struggled to get out of the academic closet. One of my former students, Andy Hoffman, had a major role in headlining this subject and organizing the sessions for the entire audience. Most of the sessions are organized by the many specialty sections of the AOM.

I was one of a panel of speakers during the Friday program, introducing industrial ecology to an audience generally unfamiliar with the topic. This left me time during the day to attend a couple of other sessions sponsored by the Organizations and Natural Resources (ONE) section. So far, I am a bit disappointed. I had hoped to hear that this subject has moved into the mainstream of business schools or at least into the eddies at the edges. It is still working hard to get there, and those teaching in the area are struggling to get respect, as Rodney Dangerfield would have said, but change is coming. The recognition, even symbolically, by the Academy signals it. Many business schools are joining the greening of the campus programs at the universities where they are situated. The students are out in front pulling the faculties and programs with them.

Besides the institutional impediments that all sustainability efforts are facing, there is little consensus of what sustainability is about. This dissonance impedes efforts to collaborate and learn together. Just sitting in a couple of sessions with multiple speakers and listening to as many ways to talk about sustainability as the number of speakers (or even more as some used several conceptual senses) provides ample evidence.

It will take much time to make significant inroads. Sustainability means eco-efficiency and corporate social responsibility to most of the people here and back on the campuses. They see this as requiring marginal changes in the way businesses operate, but the basic competitive capitalistic liberal market paradigm lies unquestioned and unchanged. One speaker showed a slide with “paradigm” and “profession” in tension with each other. Aha I thought, someone gets it, but this important realization quickly faded onto the standard jargon of the triple bottom line and sustainable procurement and sustainable this or that, even though the same speaker had mysteriously mentioned the importance of distinguishing the noun from the adjective.

There is an enormous amount of work to be done ultimately to change the underlying paradigm for business and the society that embeds it in its culture. I think the faculties can, however, get the process started with a very simple change. Stop talking about sustainable X, using the adjectival form. Start using the noun. This simple change would force the thinking away from incrementalism. Try this experiment yourself, say sustainability procurement instead of sustainable procurement and think what that means and what kind of research and teaching follow. In some cases, nothing will help, as in sustainable luxury or sustainable styles. Try googling either of these and you will see what I mean.

| | Comments (1)

« Previous Entry   Next Entry »

1 Comments

Dr. John Grant said:

Thanks for your contributions in the two sessions which I have been able to attend.
--I am among those who feel the "transition to a sustainability-oriented culture" is extremely urgent, in the spirit of James Hansen, et al.
--All the best for your increasing positive impacts!! John Grant, Colorado