von Michael v. Kutzschenbach

Today’s organizations are more technically capable and more economically efficient than ever before, and free market efficiencies are being realized in more and more countries around the world. However, in many cases organizations are intensifying economic inequity and are eroding critical environmental systems.


For most of my career I have been interested in sustainability initiatives

From the very beginning of my career I was interested in how organizations can support a sustainable world. Unfortunately, the obvious conclusion was that even so a growing number of individuals, businesses, and other institutions were recognizing alarming global breakdowns and imbalances, most organizations and people were not at all environmentally and socially sustainable organizations.

Even when considerable resources were allocated to the development sustainable development strategies, my experiences was that individual kingdoms and organizational constraints were pervasive and prevented true sustainability (organizational learning) from occurring.

This led me to a deep and ongoing interest in Sustainability and Organizational Learning. Why is it so difficult to create “true” sustainability (Ehrenfeld, 2006)? Can organizations learn? How to design organizational learning and development in order to enable organizations to cope with the challenges and consequences of sustainability?

In the 70’s the ideas of sustainability and Learning Organization have just started. These days there is widespread agreement that sustainability is critical to the success of most businesses. And yet, there is little understanding or agreement about what sustainability is, or how organizations can engage, and most efforts to establish sustainability have fallen far short of their purpose, or faded away after an initial spurt of enthusiasm. In particular, I believe that business organizations – and the societal, economic, and other institutions within which they are embedded – may be taking us, ever more faster, to a place where we don’t really want to go. Why is this so?

This is why most Sustainability initiatives don’t work

It has been my experiences that failure of most sustainability initiatives has been the inability to understand the relationship between the “real” world (material domain) and the “systems thinking” world (relational domain) (s.Brønn and von Kutzschenbach, 2014) that allow the organization to respond to calls for increased sustainability. If the organizations engagement towards sustainability is going to be improved, then first its people need new insights, skills, and competencies. But since the structure of the system (organizations) reflect and supports the current understanding of the environment, as people’s understanding (and values) changes the structure of the system must change as well.

In these columns over the coming weeks and month, I will provide an overview of what the potentials and consequences of sustainability for organizations are, and describe the approaches and tools that are central to are central to working with these challenges and, and provide powerful interventions that will accelerate your organizations learning culture to respond to calls for increased sustainability.

I highly appreciate your feedback and comments on this blog post. In case you would like to actively engage in our dialog about Engaging Sustainability, please contact me via email or join our LinkedIn Group “Engaging Sustainability“.