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The Three Levels of Sustainability

This book aims to provide the missing link in current debates around sustainability. The role of business, governments, NGOS and multilateral institutions are widely covered and many books discuss their possible actions, strategies and roles. But all of these organizations are made up of individuals. And it is individuals who will need to steer society and organizations toward a more just and equitable world.

The book takes a holistic approach to sustainable development. The authors argue that this approach starts and ends with the human being. They believe that the personal dimension of sustainable development has been neglected and that it is clear that sustainable societies cannot be achieved without committed individuals who are convinced of the need to be part of the sustainability project.

The authors frame their ideas around the Three Levels of Sustainability (TLS) framework which they argue addresses at least some of the weaknesses inherent in a fragmented approach to sustainability. Their approach encompasses societal, organizational and individual levels; and, by looking through the lens of how sustainability has evolved, provides a roadmap for producing the kind of leaders necessary for sustainable development in all of its dimensions – people, planet and profit. The focus on how the individual can contribute to these three dimensions is unique.

To arrive at this multi-level and multi-dimensional framework, the book introduces and analyzes theories from sustainable development, corporate social responsibility and personal leadership and systemically looks for linkages between them that are useful for sustainability.

This framework is placed firmly in its historical context. The authors are highly literate about the development and interpretations of sustainability and bring us to their current position via informed discussions on the history of economics, business-and-environment, social development, the corporation and the profit principle, CSR, and measurement and reporting.

The book has been designed as both a text for students as well as those already in management and leadership positions in the private, public or non-profit sectors and will also prove invaluable to those wishing to familiarize themselves with sustainability.

The broadness and the depth of issues discussed make this book a real holistic approach to an issue for which the only appropriate approach is holism in its true sense of the word … This book should be on the bookshelf of any management practitioner or management researcher with a genuine interest in sustainability. And if I were to pick a textbook for a course on sustainability or corporate social responsibility The Three Levels of Sustainability would definitely be my first choice. 

SHORT VERSION Prof. Dr Aimé Heene, Ghent University, Antwerp University, College of Europe Bruges

This is the most comprehensive analysis of sustainability that I have ever read... The three levels that the authors describe – society, organisations, persons – are battlefields where the supporters of sustainability had to fight against the promoters of unconstrained growth, myopic profits and uncaring individualism … The authors masterfully weave together contributions from different lines of thought, avoiding simplistic views and doing justice to the complexity and the many facets of the issues.

SHORT VERSION Nicola Misani, Assistant Professor of Management, Università Bocconi, Italy

The Three Levels of Sustainability is an extremely rich exploration of all major issues in (managing) sustainability, based on relevant and contemporarily dominant theories on the subject as well as on the day-to-day practice of sustainability efforts that firms worldwide undertake. The work offers a comprehensive, well-balanced treatise of the many sides of sustainability. It builds on a variety of sciences that are integrated in a unique synthesis. The broadness and the depth of issues discussed make this book a real holistic approach to an issue for which the only appropriate approach is holism in its true sense of the word. It offers a refreshing interpretation of sustainability by including innovative viewpoints. The attention paid to "the individual level" of sustainability and to "leadership for sustainability" invites the authors to highlight elements of sustainability that so far have largely been neglected or underexposed in the sustainability literature. The reader enjoys the clarity of the arguments, the logic of the reasoning, and above all the invitation to interpret sustainability in a nuanced way. The book confronts the reader with the multiple dilemmas faced by managers who are searching for sustainability, but at the same time offers theoretically sound and workable approaches to reconcile the conflicting demands that result from the dilemmatic nature of the search for sustainability. This book should be on the bookshelf of any management practitioner or management researcher with a genuine interest in sustainability. And if I were to pick a textbook for a course on sustainability or corporate social responsibility The Three Levels of Sustainability would definitely be my first choice.

FULL VERSION Prof. Dr Aimé Heene, Ghent University, Antwerp University, College of Europe Bruges

This is the most comprehensive analysis of sustainability that I have ever read. The book goes deep into the historical origins of the concept of sustainability and shows how it gradually emerged against the dominant material forces and intellectual streams of the last century. The three levels that the authors describe – society, organisations, persons – are battlefields where the supporters of sustainability had to fight against the promoters of unconstrained growth, myopic profits and uncaring individualism. The fight is still going on, and the book succeeds in making the ideals of sustainable development stronger by laying down the hard facts that make it the only option for our future. The authors masterfully weave together contributions from different lines of thought, avoiding simplistic views and doing justice to the complexity and the many facets of the issues. They also open new perspectives of research on the micro-foundations of sustainability, looking at the psychological determinants of the concern for others, which has to ignite and accompany the change process in organisations and society. The book combines realism and intellectual precision with hope and a fundamental faith in the possibilities of humanity. It significantly enlarges our vision of sustainability and it is a required read for any thinking person who wants to understand the roots of today's difficult relationship between the economy and the other spheres of our life.

FULL VERSION Nicola Misani, Assistant Professor of Management, Università Bocconi, Italy

This book confronts us with the self-evident truths that will continue to haunt us as concern grows over the state in which we will leave the earth to our children and their offspring. Fortunately, it also offers a sensible way out. A must-read for leaders and policy advisers of all disciplines.

Paul Comenencia, Diplomat and former Chamber of Commerce Executive

While politicians and economists are trying to tackle the financial and economic crises of the early 21st century, the awareness increases that fundamental changes are needed for a life-worthy future for the next generations. This book tells us not only where to go but also gives us the roadmap of how to get there. The latter is particularly valuable as the road will be rough and difficult.

Frans N. Stokman, Professor of Social Science Methodology, University of Groningen, The Netherlands

When it comes to sustainability the most important work today is both deeply personal as well as highly systemic. Elena Cavagnaro and George Curiel capture this very well in their book. They show that sustainable development requires more than new products for niche markets or applying technological innovations. It requires extraordinary individuals who understand how organisations and systems work in order to develop encompassing sustainability strategies.

Andre Nijhof, Associate Professor, MSc in Management Program Director, European Institute for Business Ethics

The Three Levels of Sustainability treats the exceedingly difficult topic of sustainability in an integrated, holistic way. The main theme of the text, sustainability, is by now well known and is treated along three dimensions: the need to achieve economic growth, the desire to have equitable social progress to accompany that growth, all the while maintaining a managed, protected environment, which includes attention to the fact that we have been given limited resources on this earth. Where The Three Levels of Sustainability breaks new ground is in its treatment of these themes at different levels. The book starts with the perspective of society and then of organisations. Ample examples ranging from the VOC (Dutch East India Company) to modern organisations illustrate how corporations have dealt with sustainability questions. The third level is what makes the book unique, namely a discourse on the requirements for individual leadership for sustainability. Attention is also given to the question of various ways of measuring sustainability. The book ends with clear, unambiguous recommendations for individual leadership. To me, the major achievement of the book is its presentation of complicated and sometimes controversial topics (such as deforestation, climate change and global income distribution), analysed from a variety of different perspectives and disciplines, and yet producing an engaging, readable and practical text.

Alex Mollen MBA, Management Consultant, Curaçao

Foreword
Robbin Derry, Associate Professor of Strategy, University of Lethbridge, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Introduction

Part I: Sustainable society

Introduction to Part I

1. The concern for economic growth

2. The concern for the environment

3. The concern for social development

4. Towards sustainable development

Part II: Sustainable organization

Introduction to Part II

5. The concern for profit

6. More than profit

7. Towards sustainable organizations: Integrating sustainability principles into organizations

8. Towards sustainable organizations: managing, measuring and reporting

Part III: Leadership for sustainability

Introduction to Part III

9. Many faces of leadership

10. Leadership for sustainability: a three-dimensional approach

11. The path to leadership for sustainability

Epilogue
Bibliography
Index

ELENA CAVAGNARO is Stenden Professor in Service Studies at the University of Applied Sciences. GEORGE H. CURIEL is a freelance advisor, consulting with organizations in search of a more sustainable development path.

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