Currently, the theory of sustainability has gained an international popularity not only in the more macro social and ecological level, but also in the relatively micro organizational level. To be more specific, now it has become the primary goal of an organization to sustain a healthy and long-term development, or sustainable development. The role of innovation in the organizational sustainability, however, is not yet decided partly because that the notion of innovation is so elusive (Elke & Bos-Brouwers 2010). After a wide literature survey, in this essay it attempts to put forth and prove the hypothesis that innovation is the key to realize organization sustainability.
Organizational Sustainability and Innovation?
As pointed out in the research book by Dunphy, Griffiths and Benn (2006), corporation has been the fundamental cell of modern economic life as it brings people such a huge physical wealth that is unthinkable for the generations before. The importance of corporation, however, leads to the question of how to maintain a sustainable development of corporation in order to achieve the sustainability of human society and the plant. This is called corporation sustainability or organizational sustainability. Accordingly, one can see that in the literary sense, organizational sustainability is a sustainable and healthy development and maintenance of the organization to fulfill its goal to provide its members the financial returns and other kinds of outcomes in the long run. However, it is just one part of organizational sustainability.
From a more profound perspective, it has the sustainability of human society and the plant as its ultimate goal. Human beings are living in this earth for quite a long time and will continue to live in this plant; therefore, it is important to study the approaches to a sustainable development. Someone also link the organizational sustainability with enterprise social responsibility. The two terms coincide in the point that they are both meant for a long-term development for the organization and human beings as well.
Innovation, nevertheless, is much more elusive to define that organizational sustainability. Based on the broad survey, it is summarized that there are at least the following two indispensible aspects in the notion of innovation. For one thing, innovation is the concept of innovative thinking. It is deeply rooted in the members of an organization and reflected by the organizational culture. In the innovative culture, the opinions from multicultural backgrounds are welcomed and respected. For another thing, innovation also refers to the methods to bring about new and creative organizational changes through innovative methods, such as technological innovation or institutional innovation. By adopting the innovative methods, it is possible to bring a significant change to an organization.
To realize the primary importance of innovation of innovation in organizational sustainability, one has to find out the inherent link between them. Organizational sustainability is nothing like the previous production mode which puts extreme and even solo emphasis on the short-term and economic gains in an organization. It is aimed at a comprehensive development of economic returns, social welfare, ecological impact, and human development. The essence in this new mode of organization development lies in creative change or a fundamental change to the old-fashioned one. Therefore, the theoretical reasoning will be conducted from two aspects—innovative mindset and innovation method.
Innovative mindset, or innovative thinking, is of a vital importance for the possibility of organizational sustainability. As pointed out by Dunphy, Griffiths and Benn (2006), because of the unsustainability of some traditional organizational values and forms, one cannot achieve the sustainability of society and the plant if they are not significantly reshaped. It is echoed from the research result by Weiss and Legrand (2011), who also conclude that to foster innovative thinking, or embrace a culture of innovation, is the key to ensure the implementation of sustainable measures in an organization. It is because sustainability approach is such a newly emerged organizational practice that one has to be spiritually innovative to accept this new idea.
In the second place, sustainability in an organization is equally impossible when no innovative methods can be put forth. It is true that the organization members should be of an innovative mindset. However, it is also important to work out measures to bring a highly efficient production while at the same time bring benefits to the society, such as technological process (Elke & Bos-Brouwers 2010). In this case, the embrace of multi-culture values is of great importance (Florea Cheung and Herndon 2013). New and innovative methods will come up when different or contrasting ideas are presented for discussion. In addition, apart from technological innovation, the institutional innovation can also result in organizational sustainability. An institutional arrangement that encourages the sustainability of an organization will definitely stimulate the members in it to make the best of their individual efforts to realize this goal.
The inherent link between innovation and organizational sustainability has been revealed in the above theoretical perspective. It is equally important to discuss this issue from an empirical approach. According to the research by Center for Sustainability Organization (n.d.), there has come out the research focus on Context-Based Sustainability, which interprets organizational performance not only from the economic perspective, but also relates it to social and ecological thresholds. It is also coincides to the discussion about organizational sustainability in the first part. And it is also directly linked to the organizational practices taken by Coca cola, who intends to realize the sustainability of the organization.
In the Sustainability Innovation Summit held by Coca Cola Enterprise (2013), measures to achieve organizational sustainability are heatedly debated by delegates from scholars, entrepreneurs and government officials. In the end, conclusions have been reached that it is important to “embrace disruptive approaches through innovation, collaboration and technology.” The approaches to be adopted are disruptive because they are not at all similar to those before. Or rather, one might call them innovative methods. However, in order to take these disruptive approaches, it is important to embrace innovation and technology. Technology is the result of innovation, to some extent, because there is no technological breakthrough without innovation. That is to say, innovation is the key in taking the disruptive approaches. And these approaches are for the purpose of organizational sustainability. It becomes clear that innovation plays such a key role in the realization of sustainability for an organization.
Nowadays, the management of change has become one of the primary tasks for the leaders in an organization, because of the rapid change in economic climate and theoretical innovation in management. The concept of organizational sustainability, however, is also one of the major theoretical challenges to the previous out-of-mode organizational practices. It not only focuses on the short-term and economic outcomes from an organization, but also extends to the social welfare and individual benefits provided by the organization. Such a contrast to the old practices, it is important to realize the importance of innovation and make the best of it to realize the sustainability of an organization. Specifically speaking, on one hand, it is necessary to foster an innovative thinking among the members of the organization; on the other hand, it is also essential to work out innovative methods to realize the goal of organization sustainability.
Center for Sustainability Organization. (n.d.). Retrieved Apr. 9th, 2014, http://www.sustainablelifemedia.com/events/sb14/program/workshops
Coca Cola Enterprise. (2013). “Sustainability Innovation Summit explores how organizations can think differently to drive the next era of sustainable business.” updated Oct. 11th, 2013, retrieved Apr. 9th, 2014, http://www.cokecce.com/news-and-events/news/sustainability-innovation-summit-explores-how-organizations-can-think-differently-to-drive-the-next-era-of-sustainable-business-video-and-summary
Dunphy D., Griffiths A. and Benn S. (2006). “Organizational change for corporate sustainability.” Retrieved from Routledge Talor & Francis Group, Apr. 9, 2014, http://www.sustenn.com/files/user_files/25_Frederic_Laloux/dunphyorganization
Elke H. and Bos-Brouwers J. (2010). “Corporate sustainability and innovation in SMEs: evidence of themes and activities in practice.” Business Strategy and the Environment (retrieved from Database Wiley), Vol. 19, No. 7, pp. 417–435
Florea L., Cheung Y., and Herndon N. (2013). “For all good reasons: role of values in organizational sustainability.” Journal of Business Ethics(retrieved from Database Jstor), Vol. 114, No. 3 (May 2013), pp. 393-408
Weiss D. and Legrand C. (2011). Innovative Intelligence: The Art and Practice of Leading Sustainable Innovation in Your Organization. John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd., Ontario.