Sustainable Enterprise Excellence and the Continuously Relevant and Responsible Organization

Sustainable Enterprise Excellence and the Continuously Relevant and Responsible Organization

Rick Edgeman (Aarhus Univeristy, Aarhus, Denmark), Anne Bøllingtoft (Aarhus Univeristy, Aarhus, Denmark), Jacob Eskildsen (Aarhus Univeristy, Aarhus, Denmark), Pernille Kallehave (Aarhus Univeristy, Aarhus, Denmark) and Thomas Kjærgaard (Aarhus Univeristy, Aarhus, Denmark)
DOI: 10.4018/ijsesd.2013100105
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Innovation and sustainability are critical to the design, activities, results, and financial viability of organizations. These support one another, with “sustainable innovation” addressing economic sustainability, and “innovating for sustainability” addressing societal and environmental sustainability. These have gained traction as partial means of confronting economic, environmental and societal challenges, but the growth rate of these challenges has thus far exceeded trajectory, scale, and velocity issues surrounding enterprise innovation and sustainability efforts and capabilities. Innovation and sustainability of the necessary trajectory, scale, and velocity are strategically integrated to deliver what we refer to as innovating sustainability. This provides an accelerated means path toward sustainable enterprise excellence, and hence toward the asymptotic aspiration of being a continuously relevant organization. Introduced for the first time are the concepts of innovating sustainability, sustainable enterprise excellence (SEE), and continuously relevant organizations (CRO).
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Innovation has many faces and forms, being at minimum a purpose, a process, a strategy, and a result. Certainly innovation can or does manifest in the organizational design context, sometimes being an enabler and other times a result. Broadly considered, innovation in this latter context may, for example, include innovation in the enterprise business model (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010).

In like manner, sustainability has become an enterprise imperative, not only to secure the future prosperity of the enterprise itself – so-called economic sustainability – but also with respect to impacts of the enterprise on both society and the natural environment. At present sustainability can provide a competitive advantage, but in the foreseeable future it may well travel the path already taken by the quality movement in the sense that sustainability may become an expectation that will not in itself enhance brand loyalty or market share, but if not present will erode each of these and hence erode the long-term viability of the enterprise as it strives for continuous relevance.

This observation is made with respect to customer and other key stakeholder expectations that enterprises will be both environmentally and socially responsible, but that these alone do not secure the survival of an enterprise, let alone its prosperity. In the Kano Model of customer needs (Kano, et al., 1984) that is based on Herzberg’s two-factor theory of human motivation (Herzberg et al., 1959), this implies that sustainability may eventually migrate from its (generally) current status as an “exciter” or “delighter” to the lesser status of being a “basic expectation”. Unmet basic expectations commonly lead consumers to engage in transactions with alternative sources.

It must be acknowledged that sustainability is a multi-strand composition with economic, environmental, and societal dimensions. In the preceding discussion sustainability is essentially cited as a quality parameter of enterprise products and services. As a quality parameter, sustainability can be mapped directly to the economic dimension and – somewhat arguably – to the environmental dimension, but it may increasingly come to be regarded as an enterprise value parameter.

It is important to explore sustainability’s societal dimension as an enterprise (economic) value parameter, both now and in the future. In this regard there exists the distinct possibility that in evaluating an enterprise, customers, shareholders, employees, other stakeholders, and society in general will expect the enterprise to comply with contextually specific societal standards, but with those standards varying markedly according to the societal / cultural context. That is to say that this context, which includes governmental influences, will impact the economic value to the enterprise of sustainability’s societal dimension, as well as the ways in which a given society defines and perceives that dimension.

This is a particularly important consideration for multinational corporations, where a company may be multinational either solely considered or by virtue of its value chain / business ecosystem. In what ways and by how much the economic value of sustainability’s societal value dimension is impacted by its cultural context or contexts must be carefully elaborated if the organization is to maximize the economic return of the societal dimension.

Such exploration and elaboration can be accelerated through a co-creation process generated via collaboration of enterprises, governing bodies, and researchers. Collaboration should be aimed at identifying, customizing, innovating, and applying key existing strategies and tactics from their collective experience and intelligence, as well as from their current and forecast future needs. Ideally, enterprises involved in such collaboration should span numerous business sectors and societal / cultural contexts. Equally, researchers engaged in the collaboration should collectively span numerous disciplines and should be able to integrate the gathered intelligence across disciplines, thus enabling more comprehensive understanding.

Apart from obvious expertise in innovation and sustainability, organizational architecture & design (OAD) expertise is vital to such an endeavor since OAD is critical to optimizing any enterprise design or redesign that may result from such efforts. Engaged governing bodies have the possibility of transforming policy and enacting legislation that is related to sustainability on local, regional, national, or multinational levels and can hence either enable or hinder change in the needed directions.

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