Experience level: 
Intermediate
Intended Audience: 
All
Speaker(s): 
Meg Thams
Authors: 
Thams, Margaret

Understanding Sustainability in Business: A Review of the Literature

The phrase Business Sustainability is a popular one in discussions of business strategy. The meaning of the phrase, however, seems at best ambiguous, varying with respect to the underlying purpose for applying the phrase to business, identified problems that suggest the need for examining business sustainability, and the methods for measuring, evaluating and reporting the state of sustainability. A review of current literature in the functional areas of a business demonstrates interest in capturing the efficiency, ethicality, and sustained success of business performance beyond financial analysis. Models for measuring overall business performance, such as the Triple Bottom Line from the Accounting literature, The Balanced Scorecard from the Management/Strategy literature, the Quality Movement from the Operations literature, and newer models such as the B-Corporation certification all suggest a need to capture, monitor and evaluate business performance for the purpose of predicting sustainability of business performance over time. This review indicates that while some common themes of business sustainability exist, discussion of business problems addressed, measures used to evaluate, and the overriding benefits of examining business sustainability differ substantially. A more concerted effort to understand and define the phrase may be required to achieve the aim of the phrase Business Sustainability.