Back to Basics 5: The Sustainability 2x2 Matrix

No MBA student or practitioner can avoid the classic 2x2 matrix offering a clear picture of strategic choices when two sets of variables are involved. Some consider this form of portrayal as an art, even as a metaphor for a sort of systems thinking. In its simplest form the variables are arrayed as the x- and y-axes on a simple graph. The generic form looks like this.

Generic 2x2.400wide.jpg


I found several examples on the Web. This one points to strategies for service organizations based on the nature of the particular service to be offered.

2x2 sample.small.jpg

One can use this for almost all situations where the choices are limited to two factors. I developed a matrix like this as a teaching aid for my Exploring Sustainability class for the Managing for Sustainability MBA at Marlboro College Graduate Center. My regular readers know that I have been teaching a series of classes under this general heading there for a few years. I was there this weekend for one of our periodic gatherings in person. The pedagogy is primarily based on the Internet and on distance learning. I get only about 4 hours of face time each trimester so I am always on the lookout for effective learning tools that can deliver the message in a very short time. The 2x2 is very good at this.

The simplest mantra that falls out of the arguments I make is that virtually all current programs with the label "greening" or "sustainable" or even "sustainability" do not and cannot move us onto a new trajectory to sustainability, as I define it. They can be and are effective but only in reducing unsustainability. Sustainability is the possibility of flourishing--a positive vision of the world, not merely one where the stresses on the Planet have been reduced, but still exist. As I write, "Reducing unsustainability is not the same as creating sustainability." Aha, a perfect candidate for a 2x2 matrix, like this one.

Sustainability matrix.png


I have filled in the four quadrants with examples from my book and others cropping up in my course work and off the Internet. I encourage "sustainability" officers or their equivalent in companies of all sizes to use this format in examining their strategic choices and as an aid to create new ideas. I am very interested in hearing from you concerning the utility of this tool and also any items you could add to those in the right-hand side. That's the challenging half of this layout. Everyday the news has hundreds of items for the left side. Inhabitat alone offers up many stories of green designs everyday. It is rare to find items that fall on the sustainability half of the diagram.

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4 Comments

camerontw said:

John, I tried to use a 4by4 when speculating on the kinds of things that represent excessive household materials intensity in this dialogue just published with Karen Pinkus:
http://www.worldpicturejournal.com/WP_5/Pinkus_Tonkinwise.htm

The dialogue covers much of the territory of your book. The intent of the 4by4 was to foreground that much of the more ecological impacting stuff in our homes derives not from irrational conspicuous consumption but semi-rational inconspicuous consumption. Let me know what you think.

Cameron

Jamie Saunders said:

Thanks for this John. Very powerful not least in revealing that there are always alternatives (and some don't 'cost' much and indeed pro-sustainability may be aided by more (fore)thoughtfulness... I also greatly liked Back to Basics 4: Possibility and related threads... including
"When the world has changed significantly, as it has in the case of sustainability, these old tools and rules are part of the problem, not the solution. New ones are essential. Possibility is the place from which these new practices can emerge, but we must first enter the authentic mode of living. That takes a conscious commitment to stop following the crowd. Then we must learn the art of presencing. Those who believe that they can “just do it” are sorely mistaken. They can reduce the load they place on the Earth and on other people, but they cannot bring sustainability to life. The process toward sustainability starts with authentic living and the possibilities it brings... ... 'But those who value sustainability and believe it is critical to life today and in the future, must act to change this by transforming the individuals and rules that constitute these institutions to care for the world and its life rather than satisfy some set of outmoded, historically embedded norms.'"

angel said:

on seeing this i remember a popular 2*2 matrix on business model it talk about various business category, fat cow, dog, star. fat cow is a business or product get get you hug profit at present, star is a product that will be your future fat cow and dog is a product that falling or end of it product life cycle.

I am a abogado lawyer what abt you

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John Ehrenfeld Author Profile Page said:

You are correct. What you remember is a 2x2 matrix made very famous by the Boston Consulting Group.