Entrepreneurship and sustainability

Posted 7.19.2016

The new meaning of sustainability for entrepreneurs

What do you picture when you think of sustainability in business? Donating a portion of profits to an environmental cause? A start-up earning enough revenue to no longer rely on investors? Enforcing a recycling system in the office?

Merriam-Webster defines sustainable as something that is “able to last or continue for a long time” or something that is “able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed.” 

Sustainability in business has shifted in recent years. A company could be self-sufficient and environmentally mindful but encounter other difficulties that could impact its wellbeing and longevity. These factors include:

  • Dissatisfied employees
  • Conflict in the community
  • Hasty decisions by leaders 

We all have a personal responsibility to live sustainably – for our own good – so that our health, our relationships, our finances and our world might flourish.

Weatherhead firmly believes that business leaders are accountable for the sustainability of their organizations and those within their organizations. As one of those business leaders, you might feel intimidated or inspired by this call to great responsibility. What does it mean to step up to this call?

Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior, Chris Laszlo, PhD, applies the traditional definition of sustainability to one of the Fowler Center’s core concepts, sustainable value. Sustainable value, from the business perspective, is “a dynamic state that occurs when a company creates ongoing value for its shareholders and stakeholders. By ‘doing good’ for society and the environment, the company does even better for its customers and shareholders than it otherwise would.”

In other words, by not only achieving the traditional understanding of sustainability but also acting to improve its environment and the people in its community, a company can increase its ROI.

But doesn’t sustainability cost money? How can the average company have enough resources to make a difference on its community?

Laszlo explains that when its people are flourishing, a company achieves a new state of sustainability – one that can thrive on its own:

“Embedding sustainability in core business activities is what we call the no-trade-off value. This is about helping companies compete in the marketplace by integrating environmental health and social performance in everything they do…

“…recent research has focused on going beyond the business case, looking at how individual flourishing – based on what we’re terming spiritual experience through a greater sense of connectedness that people have to their own purpose, to their community, and to the larger environment – is helping them to make decisions that support sustainability in everything they do.”

By creating organizations that allow individuals to bring their whole selves to work – and therefore understand how they can be more connected to themselves and the world – entrepreneurs can achieve true sustainability. These types of environments allow employees to flourish and become leaders that contribute even more good to the world, multiplying the impact of one sustainable business. 

Do you see the perception of sustainability in business shifting? How can you take a small step toward doing good for those around you, and therefore your world, today?


Discover how the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit works to empower businessses to become flourishing enterprises, and learn more about our degree programs that emphasize doing well by doing good, including our full-time MBA program. Weatherhead School of Management: think brighter.




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Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University cultivates creativity, innovation, and purpose-driven leadership to design a better world.