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Employee roles in sustainability transformation processes: A move away from expertise and towards experience-driven sustainability management

A move away from expertise and towards experience-driven sustainability management

Süßbauer, Elisabeth; Maas-Deipenbrock, Rina Marie; Friedrich, Silke; Kreß-Ludwig, Michael; Langen, Nina; Muster, Viola

Corporate sustainability management usually relies on innovation experts ‐ that is, it relies on top-down and staff-unit approaches. Seeking out the involvement of employees from all company departments can substantially contribute to corporate greening. “Ordinary” employees are not trained as sustainability experts, yet it is precisely their experience within their own field and within the organisation that can give rise to knowledge that is essential for transforming the economy towards sustainability. Hence, employees need to be empowered by appropriate structures and organisational culture. Transferring practical experience to expertise can prove very helpful in assisting and stimulating sustainability transformations in various business fields. Although ordinary employees are typically regarded as an important stakeholder group for enhancing corporate sustainability, they are seldom seriously addressed in business or research practice. To learn from the practical experience of what takes place at workplaces, we analysed four transdisciplinary research projects all aimed at initiating, accompanying and analysing processes of sustainability transformation within companies, but which focused on different sectors and organisational contexts. Based on the assumption that ordinary employees can hold three different roles in processes of sustainability transformations (implementers, ambassadors and recipients of corporate sustainability practices), we compared the findings from practices of employee involvement within the four projects. Based on these findings, we examined the implications for companies and highlighted future research needs.
Published in: GAIA - Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 10.14512/gaia.28.S1.7, oekom Verlag