Integrating corporate sustainability in strategic management

Based on a literature review of 114 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles it shows that sustainability is an important topic for managers but they just rarely consider it in strategic management. Many companies therefore still lack a strategic approach to integrating corporate sustainability into strategy. One of the reasons can be that sustainability is adding more complexity and uncertainty to corporate strategy, which is difficult to influence and monitor as discussed last week in the blog “The future of sustainability“.

The literature review also shows that there are not many differences between sustainability strategies and conventional strategies.

In my opinion the starting point in the integration of corporate sustainability in strategic management is manager attitude and behaviour. Sustainability strategies can not be formulated on the basis on rational arguments alone when complexity and uncertainty increase when sustainability is being integrated in corporate strategy. Managers have to show what they truly mean and live up to it. Showing leadership as a driver for integration. This would minimize internal organizational deficiencies and creates a much stronger business case.

I often use the following example to managers how it works to lead by example when there are topics that can not be formulated by rationality alone. Imagine you have to learn your employees how to ride a bike. You could give your employees instructions to explain to them what to do exactly in what order, which specific muscle groups to use and how to coordinate eye-hand-leg movements. Probably this will not lead to great success. What we normally do, is give some rough instructions and show how it is done. People are smart enough to understand the meaning if it works and they start playing around finding out how it works best for them and sometimes they find even better ways.

Norbert Bol


Engert, S., Rauter, R., & Baumgartner, R. J. (2016). Exploring the integration of corporate sustainability into strategic management: A literature review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 112, 2833-2850.

Photo credit: kenteegardin via / CC BY-SA

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