University of Twente Student Theses


SUSTAINABILITY MANAGEMENT Transitions to sustainability?

Vuijk, Matthew (2011) SUSTAINABILITY MANAGEMENT Transitions to sustainability?

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Abstract:The topic of my research is sustainability. I want to understand this concept. I believe understanding sustainability can best be done within a specific context. Part of this research was conducted during an internship of 8 months at the DHV Sustainability Advisory Group. Here I have researched and participated in the field of sustainability management. The main research question is to investigate if sustainability management is a substantial part of the transition to sustainability. I have used a research framework that is comprised of two part. The analytical framework offers a governance perspective on transitions in science, technology and society. The research object is characterized as a configuration that works. In this research sustainability management is to be understood as a regime with an specific organizational field, embedded in a patchwork of other regimes. The hierarchy in which sustainability management exists can be described with a multi-level perspective. The larger context is depicted as a socio-technical landscape that exerts external pressure on the regime. In niches innovations are being developed that can influence or change the regime. These forces, when strong enough, alter the regime. In the framework this change can occur along four different transitional pathways, or a sequence of pathways. The second part of my research framework is a discursive framework. The concepts of sustainability and sustainability management do not have universal, absolute meanings. For different actors and in different discussions the conceptions can change. My discursive framework exists of 9 different environmental discourses ranging from the industrial Prometheans that do not underwrite sustainability issues to radical green politics that envision a whole new sustainable social order. The synthesis of the two frameworks offers me a double vision on sustainability management that gives an outsider‟s perspective that includes both a perspective from the helicopter and multiple perspectives from a variety of actors involved. My research is a case-study centered around the DHV Sustainability Advisory Group. This advisory group assists large Dutch organizations with their sustainability management and policies. I interviewed 9 persons and conducted a online survey, resulting in 89 responses. Also, I myself was actively involved in several projects. The case-study also encompasses two sub-cases, namely the new international standard for CSR (ISO 26000) and a CO2 reduction scheme developed by ProRail (CO2 Performance Ladder). Using the research framework I constructed five research propositions to test my research theory within the scope of my case. Sustainability management is mostly understood to contribute to the „Brundtland‟ definition of sustainability. This is done by integrating the „People, Planet, Profit‟ values into the core business of organizations. Strong leadership and stakeholder engagement are key for this. Sustainability management is mostly considered a configuration of meanings, visions and interaction. Also, the anchoring role of the core business indicates a conception of a concentric configuration of sustainable hard-, soft-, org- and socioware. The organizational field of sustainability management are increasingly consultancy and creative advisory firms. The government is attributed a marginal role. In the sustainability management regime the focus is on a new creative sustainable business case, that is opposed to the calculative and rational old economic model. From the data it is very clear that within the Pagina 4/107 researched scope the „quest for sustainability‟ discourses are the most present, especially the „ecological modernization‟ discourse. However, the rationalism discourse still have a grounding. At DHV, which is considered a leader in sustainability management the actors in their harts adhere to a radical „green politics‟ discourse. But this should be considered as a personal drive for a sustainable future. In their daily work the reformists‟ discourses have the upper hand, because that is the language the rest of the world understands. The transition to sustainability is perceived to go to slow, but gradual. This is due to inertia in the regime and landscape. The sustainability management regime mostly undergoes adjustment and reconfiguration pathways. Sustainability management is geared towards sustainability, but that its role is not to transform the society or economy as a whole. Rather than that, I believe sustainability management should lead by example and keep developing and implementing „hopeful business cases monstrosities‟. Although it might be frustrating not to be able to directly influence the landscape, sustainability management actors should innovate towards sustainability and anticipate windows of opportunity. I have also briefly investigated two sub-cases, that can be interpreted as particular innovations that have change (a part of) the sustainability management regime. These sub-cases are the ISO 26000 and ProRail‟s CO2 Performance Ladder. The ISO 26000 has been developed by the „sustainability development‟ and „democratic pragmatists‟ discourses. After the development the „economic rationalism‟ and „ecological modernization‟ were glad finally a standard was developed, but were less happy with the lack of recognition of their sustainability efforts. New innovations were developed to meet this need. These development indicate a sequence of reconfiguration and de-alignment & re-alignment pathways. The „economic rationalists‟ are clearly present in the development and workings of the CPL. Organizations are triggered with economic incentives and the government should not stand in the way. The shock of the CPL initiated a substitution pathway, which in now followed by a reconfiguration pathway in which other industries are symbiotically added to the regime. I have performed these analyses on the sub-cases to show that my research framework is general enough to be used for multiple phenomena. I also offer some reflection on my research. The two research frameworks are from the field of Science and Technology Studies and Philosophy of Technology. I believe my research framework is an example of how these to research field, that form the fundaments of my education, can complement and enhance each other. STS offers can offer a broad and conceptual understanding of dynamics in society and technology. Philosophy of Technology brings in more in dept perspective on the motivations and values present (or maybe more important: not present) in these dynamics. Finally, I give an evaluation of the validity and reliability of my research and make suggestions for further research into the conceptual work as well as in the empirical methods for data collection.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:08 philosophy
Programme:Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society MSc (60024)
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