Natural Science Approaches Toward Transformational Change for Sustainability

This special issue of Business & Society on natural science and sustainability explores the potential contribution to management research in the transition to sustainability and corporate responsibility from a different lens: the natural sciences. This lens encompasses a broad array of scientific theories that can potentially provide valuable insights that inform management research in understanding socially, ethically, and environmentally responsible behaviors. The natural sciences of interest include but are not limited to: cognitive neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, evolutionary economics, thermodynamics, climate change, environmental science, biology, physics, and natural values. We seek submissions that address social, ethical, and sustainability practices emerging from financial, social and ecological perspectives from so-called ‘hard’ science models of understanding human, organizational, and social/sustainability behavior. For instance, evolutionary approaches provide a broad set of underlying assumptions concerning human behavior, different from traditional management assumptions, which in turn can be used in business ethics, corporate (social) responsibility (CSR/CR), and sustainability research. In keeping with recent efforts to incorporate biological evolution into the organizational sciences (Frederick, 2012; Fehr & Fischbacher, 2003; Ilies, Arvey & Bouchard, 2006; Nicholson & White, 2006; Pierce & White, 1999; Saad, 2006), the goal in this special issue is to inform sustainability research about novel ways to motivate managerial and organizational behavior towards ecological initiatives. If human nature is profoundly affected by the evolutionary history of our species (Greene, 2014; Nicholson, 1998), it is reasonable to expect that evolutionary and other ‘hard’ science theories can provide clues into behavior within organizations. This Special Issue on Natural Science Approaches Toward Transformational Change for Sustainability seeks to advance creative thinking and scholarship exploring how the natural sciences can and should inform management research on the transition to sustainability. It is important to identify what can be learned from the natural sciences as well as psychological research to advance our understanding of how sustainable and socially responsible behaviors can be facilitated and achieved. Current paradigms governing organizational research, for example, focus almost entirely on assumptions and theories associated with social science and economic models of behavior. Theories are built around the “rationally self-interested” individual motivated by selfish, short-term profit interests. These assumptions, however, do not accurately reflect the entire range of human, organizational, and societal behaviors. Practically, for example, when enterprises move toward new strategic initiatives, they permit only a partial and selective understanding of the underlying issues of the initiatives. Corporate sustainability is subject to these restrictions. “Corporate sustainability and corporate social responsibility have been historically defined in restricted, instrumental, compliance-driven, and profit-oriented terms” (Shrivastava et al., 2013, p. 231). Often sustainability initiatives are framed in terms of the Triple Bottom Line (Elkington, 1997) involving the interaction of people, planet, and profit. While this conception of sustainability and environmental management is useful for understanding the complexities of sustainability issues and initiatives, the triple bottom line is approached primarily from a social science perspective. Given the normative undertones associated with this conception of sustainability, a productive dialogue involving responsible management and sustainability is necessary, but should be expanded to include insight from natural science research. To gain a deeper understanding of what motivates sustainability behaviors is an important task for organizational scholars. As another example, the development of neuroscience over the last decades also has dramatically changed the way we understand human behavior, in general, and decision-making, in particular (e.g., Damasio and Damasio 2012). However, neuroscientific findings and the models they have generated remain largely unknown in most disciplines devoted to predicting human behavior. In addition, the basic building blocks of social science theories are often inconsistent with neuroscientific evidence. Authors submitting to this Special Issue should bear in mind that “Living beings are one interrelated, embodied whole, of which humans comprise only a fractional portion. The real flow of the efficiency approach to sustainability is that nature is still seen as something ‘outside’ that can be used for human means. But nature is not outside of us. It is inside of us—and we are inside of it” (Weber, 2013: 18).

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