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Isn’t it time we transitioned to integrated sustainability? De-codifying the hard-soft divide from a systems-theoretic perspective

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Isn’t it time we transitioned to integrated sustainability? De-codifying the hard-soft divide from a systems-theoretic perspective. / Chaker, Fadwa; Bonsu, Samuel; El Ghaib, Majid; Vazquez-Brust, Diego Alfonso.

In: Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2, 07.12.2020, p. 385-409.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Harvard

Chaker, F, Bonsu, S, El Ghaib, M & Vazquez-Brust, DA 2020, 'Isn’t it time we transitioned to integrated sustainability? De-codifying the hard-soft divide from a systems-theoretic perspective', Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 385-409. https://doi.org/10.1108/SAMPJ-05-2020-0167

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Author

Chaker, Fadwa ; Bonsu, Samuel ; El Ghaib, Majid ; Vazquez-Brust, Diego Alfonso. / Isn’t it time we transitioned to integrated sustainability? De-codifying the hard-soft divide from a systems-theoretic perspective. In: Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal. 2020 ; Vol. 12, No. 2. pp. 385-409.

Bibtex

@article{9b53f2cad9694ac89b6782ead73f1c24,
title = "Isn{\textquoteright}t it time we transitioned to integrated sustainability? De-codifying the hard-soft divide from a systems-theoretic perspective",
abstract = "Purpose: The instrumental-normative divide that has historically characterized approaches to societal sustainability has also resulted in a rift between underlying mental models and methods destined to address the issue. This separation makes our understanding and tackling of the present global ecological problems only limited and ineffective. The present work draws on theoretical background to develop a conceptual framework for transitioning to integrated corporate sustainability.Design/Methodology/Approach: Drawing inspiration from Luhmann{\textquoteright}s (1995) theory of social systems, we consider the instrumental (hard) and normative (soft) methods (Jackson 2019) for corporate sustainability as {\textquoteleft}conceptual systems{\textquoteright} that derive much of traditional social systems{\textquoteright} attributes. These systems are autopoietic, complexity-reducing, and functionally differentiated. Following Luhmann{\textquoteright}s philosophical grounding, we suggest that integrating the two systems of hard and soft methods boils down to constraining both systems{\textquoteright} internal complexity by imposing limitations on their operational structures. This translates into a decodification-recodification process whereby new methods emerge as a combination of initially disconnected structures.Findings: The proposed conceptual integration framework is applied to the case of the Sustainability Balanced Scorecard (SBSC) which has been recently subject to inconclusive controversy. Our work demonstrates that redesigning the SBSC{\textquoteright}s architecture following the presented framework leads to embracing complexity, tensions, and conflict all the while offering a systematic approach for properly identifying and quantifying cause-effect relationships. Moreover, the proposed framework scores high in Complexity and Systemicity measures, making it both durable and practically useful. More generally, this work drives home the point that an integrated approach to sustainability management is not only important but also feasible and theoretically durable.Research limitations/implications: Theoretically, the present work underscores the contribution of systems theory, and particularly the Luhmannian perspective, to transcending some of the most salient {\textquoteleft}divides{\textquoteright} in approaches to societal sustainability. The decodification-recodification process not only enables integrating two distinct conceptual systems, but it also transforms the divide into an opportunity to gain a fresher perspective on one of the most challenging issues of our time. This process may demand, however, some adjustments as we move across various function systems, which requires solid knowledge and understanding of the underlying {\textquoteleft}codes{\textquoteright} that define the systems subject to integration. Practical implications: This work implies that integration of varied, and sometimes outwardly opposed function systems, can and must be carried out to achieve larger societal impact. With respect to the illustrated case, the emerging dynamic SBSC offers a viable strategic planning platform whereby managers and stakeholders can concurrently define, forecast, and adjust the societal strategy that maximizes triple bottom-line indicators and sustainable development impact.Social implications: Providing decision and policy makers with integrated sustainability management approaches and instruments will have a direct benefit on enhancing the way systems, and large corporations in particular, treat and deal with nature and human beings.Originality/value: We propose that proper integration of multiple function systems, employing integrative, unbiased, and structured methodologies, can be decisive in challenging current practices in sustainability management and in providing informed guidance for making the high-stake decisions needed in the transition towards sustainable development of business and society.",
keywords = "Luhmann, Systems thinking, Sustainability management, System dynamics, Sustainability Balanced Scorecard",
author = "Fadwa Chaker and Samuel Bonsu and {El Ghaib}, Majid and Vazquez-Brust, {Diego Alfonso}",
year = "2020",
month = dec,
day = "7",
doi = "10.1108/SAMPJ-05-2020-0167",
language = "English",
volume = "12",
pages = "385--409",
journal = "Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal",
issn = "2040-8021",
publisher = "Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.",
number = "2",

}

RIS

TY - JOUR

T1 - Isn’t it time we transitioned to integrated sustainability? De-codifying the hard-soft divide from a systems-theoretic perspective

AU - Chaker, Fadwa

AU - Bonsu, Samuel

AU - El Ghaib, Majid

AU - Vazquez-Brust, Diego Alfonso

PY - 2020/12/7

Y1 - 2020/12/7

N2 - Purpose: The instrumental-normative divide that has historically characterized approaches to societal sustainability has also resulted in a rift between underlying mental models and methods destined to address the issue. This separation makes our understanding and tackling of the present global ecological problems only limited and ineffective. The present work draws on theoretical background to develop a conceptual framework for transitioning to integrated corporate sustainability.Design/Methodology/Approach: Drawing inspiration from Luhmann’s (1995) theory of social systems, we consider the instrumental (hard) and normative (soft) methods (Jackson 2019) for corporate sustainability as ‘conceptual systems’ that derive much of traditional social systems’ attributes. These systems are autopoietic, complexity-reducing, and functionally differentiated. Following Luhmann’s philosophical grounding, we suggest that integrating the two systems of hard and soft methods boils down to constraining both systems’ internal complexity by imposing limitations on their operational structures. This translates into a decodification-recodification process whereby new methods emerge as a combination of initially disconnected structures.Findings: The proposed conceptual integration framework is applied to the case of the Sustainability Balanced Scorecard (SBSC) which has been recently subject to inconclusive controversy. Our work demonstrates that redesigning the SBSC’s architecture following the presented framework leads to embracing complexity, tensions, and conflict all the while offering a systematic approach for properly identifying and quantifying cause-effect relationships. Moreover, the proposed framework scores high in Complexity and Systemicity measures, making it both durable and practically useful. More generally, this work drives home the point that an integrated approach to sustainability management is not only important but also feasible and theoretically durable.Research limitations/implications: Theoretically, the present work underscores the contribution of systems theory, and particularly the Luhmannian perspective, to transcending some of the most salient ‘divides’ in approaches to societal sustainability. The decodification-recodification process not only enables integrating two distinct conceptual systems, but it also transforms the divide into an opportunity to gain a fresher perspective on one of the most challenging issues of our time. This process may demand, however, some adjustments as we move across various function systems, which requires solid knowledge and understanding of the underlying ‘codes’ that define the systems subject to integration. Practical implications: This work implies that integration of varied, and sometimes outwardly opposed function systems, can and must be carried out to achieve larger societal impact. With respect to the illustrated case, the emerging dynamic SBSC offers a viable strategic planning platform whereby managers and stakeholders can concurrently define, forecast, and adjust the societal strategy that maximizes triple bottom-line indicators and sustainable development impact.Social implications: Providing decision and policy makers with integrated sustainability management approaches and instruments will have a direct benefit on enhancing the way systems, and large corporations in particular, treat and deal with nature and human beings.Originality/value: We propose that proper integration of multiple function systems, employing integrative, unbiased, and structured methodologies, can be decisive in challenging current practices in sustainability management and in providing informed guidance for making the high-stake decisions needed in the transition towards sustainable development of business and society.

AB - Purpose: The instrumental-normative divide that has historically characterized approaches to societal sustainability has also resulted in a rift between underlying mental models and methods destined to address the issue. This separation makes our understanding and tackling of the present global ecological problems only limited and ineffective. The present work draws on theoretical background to develop a conceptual framework for transitioning to integrated corporate sustainability.Design/Methodology/Approach: Drawing inspiration from Luhmann’s (1995) theory of social systems, we consider the instrumental (hard) and normative (soft) methods (Jackson 2019) for corporate sustainability as ‘conceptual systems’ that derive much of traditional social systems’ attributes. These systems are autopoietic, complexity-reducing, and functionally differentiated. Following Luhmann’s philosophical grounding, we suggest that integrating the two systems of hard and soft methods boils down to constraining both systems’ internal complexity by imposing limitations on their operational structures. This translates into a decodification-recodification process whereby new methods emerge as a combination of initially disconnected structures.Findings: The proposed conceptual integration framework is applied to the case of the Sustainability Balanced Scorecard (SBSC) which has been recently subject to inconclusive controversy. Our work demonstrates that redesigning the SBSC’s architecture following the presented framework leads to embracing complexity, tensions, and conflict all the while offering a systematic approach for properly identifying and quantifying cause-effect relationships. Moreover, the proposed framework scores high in Complexity and Systemicity measures, making it both durable and practically useful. More generally, this work drives home the point that an integrated approach to sustainability management is not only important but also feasible and theoretically durable.Research limitations/implications: Theoretically, the present work underscores the contribution of systems theory, and particularly the Luhmannian perspective, to transcending some of the most salient ‘divides’ in approaches to societal sustainability. The decodification-recodification process not only enables integrating two distinct conceptual systems, but it also transforms the divide into an opportunity to gain a fresher perspective on one of the most challenging issues of our time. This process may demand, however, some adjustments as we move across various function systems, which requires solid knowledge and understanding of the underlying ‘codes’ that define the systems subject to integration. Practical implications: This work implies that integration of varied, and sometimes outwardly opposed function systems, can and must be carried out to achieve larger societal impact. With respect to the illustrated case, the emerging dynamic SBSC offers a viable strategic planning platform whereby managers and stakeholders can concurrently define, forecast, and adjust the societal strategy that maximizes triple bottom-line indicators and sustainable development impact.Social implications: Providing decision and policy makers with integrated sustainability management approaches and instruments will have a direct benefit on enhancing the way systems, and large corporations in particular, treat and deal with nature and human beings.Originality/value: We propose that proper integration of multiple function systems, employing integrative, unbiased, and structured methodologies, can be decisive in challenging current practices in sustainability management and in providing informed guidance for making the high-stake decisions needed in the transition towards sustainable development of business and society.

KW - Luhmann

KW - Systems thinking

KW - Sustainability management

KW - System dynamics

KW - Sustainability Balanced Scorecard

U2 - 10.1108/SAMPJ-05-2020-0167

DO - 10.1108/SAMPJ-05-2020-0167

M3 - Article

VL - 12

SP - 385

EP - 409

JO - Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

JF - Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

SN - 2040-8021

IS - 2

ER -

ID: 23064267