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Making unsustainable business models appear sustainable: are we wasting time?

Written by Lucy Soanes

Business & Environment

Prior to analysing the relationship between business and sustainability, I accepted that, because corporations are so ingrained in societal organisation, it would be much more progressive to help reform their internal operations, rather than question their very existence. However, this view has been inverted by the plethora of literature available which debunks the theoretical insights behind corporate sustainability strategies.

  A key argument is provided by Banerjee, who states corporations employ sustainability strategies primarily in response to public interest. They value the expansion of stakeholder demands as a growth opportunity, which in turn fuels their two primary goals: power expansion and profit maximisation. Strategies such as creating shared value (CSV), which aims to blur the boundaries between for-profit and not-for-profit organisations, are inherently flawed, as they ignore “the tensions between social and economic goals” . This is illustrated by Uber, a corporation which is built on an insecure and poorly paid workforce, yet boasts about its employment diversity by using social justice language to legitimise its exploitative operations.   

  Working to sustainably progress existing business models, as advocated in the online discussions, embeds a form of enlightened capitalism, whereby corporations are employing specialists to legitimise the very operations which create the social and ecological ills that strategies such as CSV are in place to combat. Moreover, it works to silence activists who demand real systemic change. Thus, instead of preserving corporate models, analysis has made it evident that society must transition to sustainable SMEs.


Devinney, T. M. (2009) ‘Is the socially responsible corporation a myth? The good, the bad, and the ugly of corporate social responsibility’, The Academy of Management Perspectives, 23(2), pp. 44–56.
Nagle, A. (2017) ‘Silicon Intersectionality’, Current Affairs Magazine. Available at: (Accessed: 3 December 2017).
Crane, A. et al. (2014) ‘Contesting the value of “creating shared value”’, California management review, 56(2), pp. 130–153.
Banerjee, S. B. (2008) ‘Corporate social responsibility: The good, the bad and the ugly’, Critical sociology, 34(1), pp. 51–79.


Lucy Soanes

MSc Ecological Economics 2017/18