Barriers to Sustainability

Fairleigh Dickinson University

sustainable pyramidThe American Management Association (AMA) report, Creating a Sustainable Future: A Global Study of Current Trends and Possibilities, 2007–2017, lists several barriers to sustainable business. It cites such examples as an anti-environmentalism movement, challenges to global warming research, affordability, unawareness of what sustainability is, skepticism among leaders, difficulty in measuring goals and short-term thinking by corporate executives.

Another barrier to sustainability is the notion that such initiatives are an expensive gamble on the corporation’s part. “Managers who are trained to believe that profit is the prime directive of business may find it hard to believe the financial bottom line can improve through social- and environmental-responsibility efforts,” states the report.

Another source of resistance is confusion over what constitutes a sustainable business. According to the AMA study, “Some executives confuse sustainability with one of its parts — corporate social responsibility — and assume their organizations are already up to par because they have done good things for their communities.”

One very strong deterrent to implementing sustainable business practices is the difficulty in measuring sustainability outcomes. This is where organizations like Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise (ISE) and the AMA become crucial to the future of business and society.

“Education can bring much-needed awareness to corporate sustainability and different ways to measure it,” says Joel Harmon, ISE director of research. For instance, the ISE has developed the Sustainability Pyramid, which details qualities associated with highly successful sustainability strategies (see Figure 1).

Midway as one moves up the pyramid are metrics or the measurement of sustainability efforts. These may include: environmental efficiency, measured through energy audits; carbon footprint analysis; global reporting initiatives undertaken; community/corporate citizenship, commonly known as corporate social responsibility; a corporate atmosphere that is strong on ethics; and a diverse employee population.


Harmon notes, “When huge and profoundly influential organizations such as General Electric or Wal-Mart — not generally viewed as very socially responsible firms — make major strategic commitments to social/environmental sustainability, even skeptics start to take notice.”

GE is spending billions of dollars to position itself as a leading innovator in everything from wind power to hybrid engines, and has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 to 1 percent of what it was in 2004.

Wal-Mart has made a series of high-profile promises to slash energy use overall, from its stores to its vast trucking fleets; to vastly reduce waste and harmful materials in its entire supply chain; and to purchase more electricity derived from renewable sources. It has even hired renowned environmentalist Amory Lovins to be one of its top strategic advisers and, through the Wal-Mart Foundation, Inc., endowed the Applied Sustainability Center, an interdisciplinary initiative of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, with a gift of $1.5 million. And, most recently, the mega-store chain has pledged to upgrade its employee health care benefits.

Dow Chemical, manufacturer of Styrofoam products, sees a market in the need for low-cost housing and is developing technologies such as eco-friendly foam boards to be used in construction. It also is developing products such as roof tiles that deliver solar power to buildings and water treatment technologies for regions short of clean water.


If tomorrow’s business leaders are studying today on college campuses, there’s more good news for the sustainable movement. According to a special Chronicle of Higher Education issue on sustainability, a growing number of higher-education institutions are beginning to transform their campuses, their operations, their policies and their teaching to reflect a commitment to sustainability. Dozens of U.S. colleges have announced that they are moving toward becoming sustainable campuses, and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (www.aashe.org) has grown from 35 to more than 480 members since its inception.

Activities include putting up green buildings, planting native landscapes, switching to renewable power, supporting local communities, developing clean technologies, establishing policies on living wages and finding ways to turn those efforts into teachable moments and research projects.

Fairleigh Dickinson University is investing heavily in the future with the development of various initiatives, in particular the construction of the new Monninger Center for Learning and Research, a “green” (i.e., energy efficient and sustainable, as certified by the New Jersey Green Builders) library/learning center that will become a hub for learning on the College at Florham campus and in the larger surrounding community.

One of the top projects to be supported by FDU NOW: The Campaign for Fairleigh Dickinson University, this project is engaging FDU’s administrative leadership, staff, students and faculty, along with leaders from New Jersey-based corporations (such as FirstEnergy/JCP&L) and the surrounding community.

In addition, FDU administrators are taking green measures into account in planning the renovation of the Student Union Building at the Metropolitan Campus. The University is also a member of the New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability.

On many campuses, student organizations have become watchdogs for sustainability; influencing changes in college operations, both large and small (see Easy Being Green). Armed with Internet research, student groups are investigating institutional operations like energy use, food purchasing, investments, transportation and waste disposal. They are pushing administrators to approve new projects and set higher goals for sustainability.

National networks are helping students share strategies with one another and organize sophisticated, often successful proposals for campus innovations and reforms. For example, RecycleMania (www.recyclemaniacs.org) encourages universities and colleges to participate in a 10-week competition. Each spring, institutions are challenged to collect the largest amount of recyclables per capita and the largest amount of total recyclables, and to produce the least amount of trash per capita or have the highest recycling rate.

FDU’s College at Florham, with the help of its Green Club, held a “Recyclemania” competition in order to encourage recycling on campus. Statewide, FDU ranked fifth among New Jersey schools in the 2007 competition, with more than 23,000 cumulative pounds of recyclables collected (8.8 pounds per person).

Inspired by the College at Florham’s response to Recyclemania, a similar competition is being planned for FDU’s Metropolitan Campus, and a Friends of the Environment club has been started there.


Where will sustainable business practices be in the next 10 to 20 years? “Much depends on whether business leaders and managers gain greater awareness of sustainability and continue to choose to adopt sustainability-related values, strategies, principles and practices,” says Jeana Wirtenberg, director of external relations and services at FDU’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise. In collaboration with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (formerly the Human Resource Institute), the ISE has developed three possible scenarios, which are included in the American Management Association report Creating a Sustainable Future.

Wirtenberg explains, “Scenario 1, called “Things Fall Apart,” depicts an increasingly anarchic world in which a global war for natural resources has led the world to the cusp of World War III.”

Scenario 2, known as “Muddling Toward Sustainability,” she continues, “depicts a mixed bag of failed legislative efforts and uncaring business leaders.”

“Scenario 3, which is our dream and aspiration, is a ‘Global Sustainability Culture,’” says Wirtenberg. In this case, a majority of people in nearly every nation believe that environmental degradation is a true threat, global initiatives are in place to further reduce social and economic inequalities among nations and business organizations increasingly embrace sustainability. “Truly, she concludes, “that is the only win-win-win solution.”

Disponível em <http://www.fdu.edu/newspubs/magazine/08ws/sustainability4.html>. Acesso em: 21 mai. 2009

1 Response to “Barriers to Sustainability”

  1. 1 Sapper
    22 de maio de 2009 às 2:56 AM

    Sustainability is anathema to capitalism generally: the underlying socio-political-economic factor is the management of commons, capitalism is designed to eat the commons. The one size fits all approach of civilised hierarchical classical thinking further entrenches and narrows the potential for action in corporate organisations or mainstream society. Alternatively grass-roots, self-organising (e.g. the UKs Transition Towns initiative) promotes a fundamental change in the way we live and work. Business as usual is not a solution – a revolution in the way we all live, a revolution in institutions (if they are to remain at all) is necessary for true sustainability even to begin.

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Sou Ana Paula Simões, pesquisadora da relação pessoa-ambiente em diversos contextos de interrelação. Postarei aqui informações, curiosidades, pesquisas e ferramentas interessantes na área. Seja bem-vindo(a)!

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