How we justify our (un)sustainability

During the last few weeks I have had interesting discussions about the question: “are we doing enough to create a sustainable future?”. The discussions were interesting because they were all very open in the first place. I also found that people are not only willing to contribute but are also willing to share their contributions with me and others. There is also the willingness to share the restraining factors that prevent them from doing more. Economic viability (profitability) is the factor that was most frequent discussed in relation to the risk involved. The other most heard reason that restrains more contribution is the fact that most issues are not in direct control and others should take more responsibility.

In writing this I remembered a quote by the humanist psychologist Carl Rogers:
The only person who cannot be helped is that person who blames others.

For that reason I tried to find some more scientific insight how we behave to justify our sustainability and/or unstainability behavior. Last week a new study was published by Chassé & Boiral (2016) about socially accepted arguments to justify, rationalize and legitimize unstustainable behavior. This study also finds that economic priorities and transfer of responsibility (looking for a scapegoat) are the main arguments. The study additionally mentions: denial and self proclaimed sustainability. The study gives a good insight in statements that are being used to not do more about sustainability. Some of these statements are:

  • We have other, more important, things to do.
  • More commitment would be too risky.
  • Sustainability initiatives depend on the supply chain and are not under our control.
  • We are too small to have significant issues.
  • Governmental agencies contribute to the problem.
  • We do not have significant impacts.
  • External pressures in this area are based on exaggerations and unreliable information.
  • We are doing enough.

The arguments mentioned above, can be used to neutralize more ambition towards sustainability, but they can also inspire us to innovate on our (un)sustainability behavior to #SustaInnovate. It can be helpful in explaining to ourselves: what are the more important things to do?; is more commitment too risky or will the risk overtake us?; are we really so insignificant or can we be the new gamechanger?

I look forward to our discussions to see where we can sustainnovate!

Norbert Bol


Chassé, S., & Boiral, O. (2016). Legitimizing Corporate (Un) Sustainability A Case Study of Passive SMEs. Organization & Environment, 1086026616672065. (Online First 3 october 2016).

Photo credit: h.koppdelaney via / CC BY-ND, Scapegoat.

One thought on “How we justify our (un)sustainability

  1. The answers depend on at which level you try to achieve more sustainability. Sometimes closing the cycle only requires vertical integration or common understanding, which may even spur profits. On the other hand, global issues (carbon) require a global answer only governments can give. Business can support global governance more strongly by thinking win-win instead of win-lose. The need for global governance lies in the work of Elinor Ostrom on the commons:

    Liked by 1 person

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