Business and sustainable development : lessons from spiritual organisations
It is increasingly evident that current corporate environmental management activities are
insufficient to move organisations towards sustainable development, the quest for which will
require alternative tools and strategies, which recognise social and environmental issues. It is
suggested that spirituality - which appears to offer great capacity for encompassing social and
environmental considerations - could represent a catalyst for change. The aim of the research
was to explore the potential of spirituality to enhance the sustainable development approaches
of organisations working with spirituality, by examining the social experiences within the
organisations and the environmental approaches being undertaken. A theoretical base was
constructed by exploring three different pairs of literature: business and the environment,
including an assessment of current corporate environmental management approaches; the
sustainable development aspects of spirituality, including discussions on Buddhism,
Shamanism and Christian Dimensions; and the emergent area of spirituality and business.
U sing core concepts extracted from the literature review, fieldwork was undertaken into the
experiences of leaders and staff within fourteen organisations working with spirituality.
Seeking to understand reality through the participants' eyes, the case studies aimed to
discover the influences, rationales, processes, implications and constraints to incorporating
spirituality into business. Although the case study organisations were relatively small, as
pioneers of applying spirituality to business they displayed a rich variety of experiences.
Using concepts derived from the exploration ofthe literature within a framework derived
from the Theory of Reasoned Action, the fieldwork data were analysed in order to extract
generalisable processes. From this a list of propositions was developed concerning
generalised influences, rationales, processes, implications and constraints to the incorporation
of spirituality into business. It was recognised that there were also processes unique to
individual organisations, which indicated the presence of an influencing factor - their
'worldview', encompassing motivating factors, the scope of organisational vision, the nature
of reality for the organisation, and the understanding of what is spirituality and spiritual.
Thus it was discovered that there is a connection between spirituality and sustainable
development whereby spirituality has implications on the social experiences within
organisations, and impacts on attitudes and behaviours related to the environment. Its
strength as a tool for organisational transformation is its relevance to each organisation's
worldview. To be effective the approach adopted must recognise, reflect and resonate with
the organisational worldview, creating a framework of relevant actions and aims. Such
strategies will minimise the adoption of short term prescriptive measures and aid in the
design of a long term, developmental programme. To expedite this the research constructed a
model to assist organisations in the discovery of their worldview which, along with the
generalisable propositions and individual organisational approaches, can be used as an
agenda for change towards the state of sustainable development.