Sustainability is a Serious Business


Climate change is the biggest problem that needs to be tackled in the 21th century. It affects everyone and has a domino effect to create even more severe problems. To prevent all of these problems we need comprehensive and sustainable solutions. In my opinion, business is the key to develop and implement smart, innovative and up scaled solutions. Michael Porter gave an inspirational TED Talk about the reason why business can be good at solving social problems. He said that the power of business is to initiate bigger impacts, by up scaling the required solutions.

Chris McKnett gave another interesting perspective on sustainable business. He talked about the logics to invest in sustainable businesses. He claims that data shows a consistency between environmental leadership and good returns. Sustainability is no longer a matter of philanthropy, but it is an attractive and profitable business strategy


Managing the transition to a sustainable enterprise”, is an insightful book written by van Tulder et al. It describes a comprehensive theory on how companies make the transformation towards a sustainable business (Tulder et al, 2014). A four phases model is used to outline this sustainable development (Table 1). In order to reach a new phase companies need to overcome certain obstacles.

The first phase is Inactive, a classic case of business. The company is internally oriented and its intention is to avoid any liability. The appropriate meaning of CSR in this phase is Corporate Self Responsibility.

The second phase is Reactive, a defensive case of business. In this phase the company has a more reactive approach towards needs and expectations of external stakeholders and primarily to avoid liability as well. In this case CSR means Corporate Social Responsiveness.

The third phase is Active, a strategic case of business. When a company reached this phase it has an active internally oriented sense of responsibility towards sustainability. CSR means for them: Corporate Social Responsibility.

The final phase is Proactive, a societal case of Business, the responsiveness of a typical company from this phase is extrinsically motivated and it believes in taking shared responsibility for the sustainable issues. CSR for these company means Corporate Societal (or Sustainable) Responsibility.

In order to use the four phases model to its potential, the theory stresses that a company should determine at which phase they operate and weather or not all departments are aligned in the same phase. If departments are at different phases, obstacles could arise that hinders the company in their sustainable development.

Schermafbeelding 2016-01-13 om 21.04.37



Unilever is a proactive multinational company which scores especially high in terms of sustainability on agriculture, fishing and water treatment. This company serves as a role model for the way sustainability is incorporated into the company’s strategy and how it is applied throughout the company. The video about Unilever’s sustainable living plan: making progress, driving change, shows Unilever’s vision to double the size of the business, while reducing their environmental footprint and increasing their positive social impact (Unilever, 2016). Unilever takes their responsibility and does well by doing good.



Tulder, R. van, Tilburg, R. van, Francken, M., Da Rosa, A. (2014). Managing the transition to a sustainable enterprise. London: Routledge, pp.11-14.

Unilever, (2016). Introducing our plan. Available at: [Accessed 13 Jan. 2016].


One thought on “Sustainability is a Serious Business”

  1. Hi Aniek,

    I think these steps are very important for companies to take. Unilever is a very good example for a successful, yet sustainable company. However, I think that some of the steps are rather difficult for smaller, start-up companies. They may not have the financial means to achieve the proactive status. Maybe the larger companies or the government could start up a project in order to help new, smaller companies reach their goals in a sustainable way?


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