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Is the Triple Bottom Line a Strategic Priority in U.S. Businesses?

“The fallacy of ‘trickle-down’ product sustainability: Translating strategic sustainability targets into product development efforts.” International Journal of Operations & Production Management (2021)

Boler College supply chain professor Sebastian Brockhaus and his coauthors, Moritz Petersen of Kühne Logistics University in Germany, and A. Michael Knemeyer of Ohio State University tackle the question of what it means to be sustainable company.  What company characteristics actually make it sustainably sustainable?  They argue in their recent paper “The fallacy of ‘trickle-down’ product sustainability” that it requires imbuing company competitive advantage with sustainability thinking and - fundamentally - building sustainability into product development and company strategy.  Brockhaus and his co-researchers, develop a model for clarifying strategic integration of sustainability into a firm’s operations.  They then interview managers in industries ranging from Apparel to Consumer Electronics to determine how sustainability shapes their firms’ approaches to their business and markets.  For the majority of the sample firms, managers indicate while sustainability may be a source of differentiation for a product or product line, triple bottom line thinking has not permeated business strategy.  In fact, they classified less than 20% of their sample firms as having sufficiently institutionalized a sustainability ethos into their business models to be considered a scalable source of ongoing value creation.  Perhaps not surprisingly, this suggests sustainability remains a nascent source of strategic advantage at many firms; yet the research also provides a framework for evaluating progress toward greater integration of sustainability in product development and business strategy.

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