Aspirational and Attainable Lenses of Sustainability: The Roles of Different Visions of Sustainability in Organizational Decision Making

By Curt D. Gervich.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability Policy and Practice

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Blue Mountain Organic Vegetables (BMOV) is a not-for-profit organization in central Appalachia that coordinates the production and sales of organic fruit, vegetables and free-range eggs produced by farmers throughout the region. Many of the growers participating in BMOV are dependent on their farms for a large portion of their economic livelihoods. In 2008, the manager of a Wal-Mart retail store approached the not-for-profit’s board of directors with a proposal to sell BMOV’s produce at the store. Several members of BMOV’s board were outspoken in their opposition to the store when Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters announced their decision to locate in the area. Board members opposed Wal-Mart’s impacts on regional land use and transportation patterns, labor practices and the additional competition the store would bring to locally-owned businesses. BMOV’s board members launched a prolonged debate about whether to partner with the retail giant. They excluded staff members and growers from this decision-making process. In 2009, the board decided against partnering with Wal-Mart. When staff members and growers found out about Wal-Mart’s proposal, and the board’s decision, they were angry at having been left out of the process. Moreover, they felt the board’s choice did not reflect BMOV’s mission and was not in the best interest of growers, staff members and the organization itself.
This article explores the different perspectives regarding sustainability held by growers, staff and board members in BMOV and their implications for conflict management and decision making at the organizational scale, and for the Wal-Mart decision in particular. A fundamental tension that emerges from this exploration is the dichotomy of viewing sustainability through an aspirational or attainable lens. Leaders and decision makers in sustainability initiatives should be aware of the implications that their conceptualizations of sustainability can have on conflict and decision making in order to achieve higher levels of commitment, innovation and collaboration among participants.

Keywords: Sustainability, Decision Making, Conflict, Frames

The International Journal of Sustainability Policy and Practice, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp.169-182. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 405.453KB).

Dr. Curt D. Gervich

Assistant Professor, Center for Earth and Environmental Science, State University of New York, Plattsburgh, USA

I am interested in integrating the concepts of diversity, sustainability and resilience into environmental governance and decision making. I explore and promote this integration in three ways. First, through research that examines the different ways that participants in environmental decision-making processes conceive the notion of sustainability and how this influences problem solving, including power relationships, authority and responsibility among participants. Second, through networks-based research in which I use surveys and interviews to illustrate social-ecological systems and uncover gaps in funding and policy networks that lead to ineffective or inefficient management of environmental challenges. Third, through participatory decision-making workshops that aim to enhance the inclusion and roles of diverse perspectives in environmental decision-making processes within non-profit organizations and government agencies.