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A critical reflection: is there a role for sustainability in business?

Written by Amelia Duncan

Business & Environment

At the beginning of this module my knowledge regarding the business world was very limited. The discussions throughout that led to questioning the motive of why a business engages with sustainability were the most influential and thought provoking. I feel this led to deep questioning of every aspect that was covered.

There were two main answers provided as to the motive stated by Vogel (2005); to attract and keep consumers or respond to pressures from NGOs. This carrot and stick approach is the epitome of the business case; doing good to do well. However, is genuine care required if the engagement is still a success?

I was not fully satisfied with this notion, and researching the literature, brought into question the need for incorporating morals/ethics into businesses core structures (Nijhof and Jeurissen, 2010). Why have the morals/ethics of the eco-consumer not been enough to incentivise genuine change within business? This discussion in class, along with Elkington (2012), suggested their fickle nature in reality.

This notion influenced me strongly, as it made me question my own morals and ethics… as an advocate for sustainability but also a ‘guilty eco-consumer’ who purchases fair trade but owns an iPhone, drives a car and yet expects global business to make genuine change to a sustainable society.

Revisiting my earlier uncertainty, I consider unless society can truly move away from its materialistic roots, how can business be expected to make genuine change? For now, the business case approach appears to be the second-best alternative.


Elkington, J. 2012. The Zeronauts. Breaking the Sustainability Barrier. London and New York: Routledge.

Nijhof, A and Jeurissen, R. (2010) The glass ceiling of corporate social responsibility, Consequences of a business case approach towards CSR. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy. 30 (11/12) pp618-631.

Vogel, D. 2005. The Market for Virtue. Washington D.C: Brookings Institution Press.


Amelia Duncan

MSc Sustainability and Consultancy 2017/18