Enhancing systems thinking in corporate sustainability through a transdisciplinary research process

By Hanna Ahlström, University of Oslo, Amanda Williams, Technology and Economics, ETH Zürich and Sigurd Sagen Vildåsen, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

20 May 2020, Journal of Cleaner Production



Sustainability is no longer a peripheral topic for most corporations, as they increasingly adopt more proactive business strategies. In spite of this, there has not been sufficient positive change in corporate practice and research indicates that our ecosystems are continuing to deteriorate at an alarming rate. In this study, we analyse the extent to which social-ecological systems (SES) thinking can be used as a bridging concept in transdisciplinary sustainability research, in order to improve corporate sustainability practices. We draw on a case study of the Business Forum in the Sustainable Market Actors for Responsible Trade (SMART) project. The data was collected from two workshops, semi-structured interviews with corporate representatives, and autoethnographic accounts. Our findings show that a successful transdisciplinary research process requires both significant interest and capacity to act on the part of corporate representatives. Enabling factors for such collaboration are mutual understanding of concepts and having sufficient time to invest in the collaboration. We suggest that risk management can be used as a conceptual metaphor to translate SES thinking in order to make it more relevant in the context of corporate practice. On this basis, we conclude that SES thinking indeed can be used as a bridging concept in transdisciplinary research collaboration for corporate sustainability.

Read more: Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 256, 120691, ISSN 0959-6526


Published July 1, 2020 10:07 AM - Last modified Sep. 3, 2022 3:20 AM