Event at the HBS Business History Initiative

Understanding and Overcoming the Roadblocks to Sustainability

Over the past several decades, a vibrant scholarly community has generated thousands of empirical and conceptual studies on the complex relationship between business and the natural environment. At the same time, many large corporations have created positions of Corporate Sustainability Officer with the goal of achieving steady improvements in their sustainability performance. Despite substantial academic research and management attention, complex ecological challenges continue to grow. This unfortunate disconnect between aspirations and reality has begun to provoke some self-reflection in the business and natural environment literature concerning its impact and relevance.

A significant body of research on corporate sustainability has examined win-win outcomes, where firms have reduced their environmental and other impacts while reaping economic benefits. Less attention has been devoted to tensions inherent in corporate sustainability, where moving in the direction of sustainability has required managers to change their business models, form risky partnerships, and otherwise incur net costs. Recent empirical business history research appears to show that profits and sustainability have been hard to reconcile throughout history. These tensions and conflicts merit careful examination from a variety of scholarly and practitioner perspectives.

This conference will focus on the roadblocks to sustainability since the 1960s and develop a research agenda for scholars seeking to overcome those roadblocks. In addition to offering a retrospective analysis of where corporate sustainability has fallen short, the conference will explore the incentives, organizational designs, and institutional systems that would allow sustainability to take hold.

Registration details can be found on the conference registration page.

 

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