Sustainability for the Future

Do we really want to pry into the future? Some people do not want to consider it.  In the 1970s, Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, wrote, “Citizens of the world’s richest and most technological advanced nations, many of them will find it increasingly painful to keep up with the incessant demand for change that characterizes our time. For them, the future will have arrived too soon.”

Clearly, the future is a highway with varying lanes, but do humans have the capacity to accept unhappy endings? In general, it is my position that humans are incapable of accepting unhappy endings. In fact, futurist Edward Cornish argues that it is easier for people to sustain a long-term perspective when they have a clear vision.  In this discussion, we will look at how organizations can create sustainable existence in the future.

Futurists utilize many techniques to anticipate the future. For example, strategic foresight can provide an avenue where organizations can strategically analyze short, mid-range, and long-term planning. Thus, it’s a glance into the future. This concept is easily seen on the Big Screen.


Hollywood blockbusters are the chronology of happy endings. People want to believe that all stories have positive endings. This concept is derived from childlike innocence of Americans. Unfortunately, the future may include unpleasant outcomes. Life doesn’t always provide a nice story. For example, globalization can provide many job opportunities, but the outcome isn’t always positive. In fact, the future prediction for the full-time worker is bleak. It is evident that technology and outsourcing are now making the part-time worker a reality of today, not tomorrow.

In fact, Charles Handy theorized that unemployed or spare workers will create their own new work in the future. Therefore, individuals will control their own destiny and become entrepreneurs. However, this runs counter to our American culture. Grandma taught us “go work for a good company and get a good job with benefits.” 

In fact, Bruce Sterling, author of Tomorrow Now, further argues that simple, predictable, and solvable jobs will go to the poorly educated and unprepared or to intelligent machines. However, high-paying jobs will go to the highly prepared, teachable, and creative individuals. In the future, good jobs will be the apex of human difficulty. Technology and understanding of complex systems will require a well-grounded person. However, futurist James Canton argues that American youth, our future workers, will be unprepared in math/science and may be locked out of future opportunities.

Based on many observations, organizations and individuals don’t want to hear negative scenarios for future generations. This reality reaffirms that people don’t want to think negatively about their future. Therefore, they often operate in denial or ignore the future.

Clearly, organizational leaders need to develop a strategy to deal with negative consequences. Many people don’t have the patience to look beyond short-term gains. Therefore, effective leaders need to know how to deal with the possibilities of negative futures.

How do organizations effectively navigate their operations for sustainability in the future?

© 2010 by Daryl D. Green 

15 thoughts on “Sustainability for the Future

  1. John M. Richardson, Jr. wrote, “When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.” Organizations need leaders who will help their organizations develop the strategic foresight needed to prepare for the future (1). In this economic downturn and organizations finances are tight, developing employees and creating future leaders gets pushed to the side. I believe organizations should have a leadership growth and succession plan in place at all times. This requires a willingness to learn, be flexible, stay humble, and balance the tyranny of the urgent with future preparedness. Tomorrow’s leaders will need new skills and competencies to cope with the social and environmental changes. It is critical for current leaders to prepare future leaders – such as your knowledge workers and creative thinkers.

    Switzer, M. What’s your future. Retrieved from

    • There are many things leaders should do. But encouraging new and inventive ideas is rarely one of those. Leadership, once in an established position, does not want ‘up and coming’ employees moving up the ranks. All they are aiming for is to keep shareholders happy, so that they can make their ludicrous yearly bonuses. This may be a bit cynical, but just look at automobile industry. Only now, after being bullied into producing more economic cars by both foreign competitors and the government, are moving toward electric cars. CEOs of Fortune 500 companies averaged $10.9 million dollars in 2009, not counting options that average $5.6 million. Can they honestly explain that they did enough work to support this investment by the firm? Isn’t it possible that they are in fact there just to make their money, and do not truly care about the future of the company or encouraging ‘outside the box’ thinking? They would not want to have a succession plan in place. They would not ever want to retire as long as they can collect their enormous paychecks from doing so very little.

      (side note, most amazing Youtube video I’ve seen in a while)

  2. The difference between successful companies and those at risk of being merged or acquired , or going out of business are often subtle. Generally, they can be attributed to the company’s leadership and culture. These translate into management’s ability to execute its strategic plan (Edmund L. Valentine). This is true today and I think it will be true in the future. The fundamental of what makes a business successful today and what will make a business success tomorrow are going to be the same. Business need to work on their core values and stick to them even during times of change and they will sustain the level of success they currently have.

    • In today’s corporate environment, core values seem to be a thing of the past. I completely agree with the idea that companies need to move back to a more value based way of working. They are so focused on making returns, that they often miss helping their employees or offering more services to their customers. But I think buyers are so fed-up with how companies have been acting, that firms are approaching a choice, either become more value oriented or suffer a backlash. “Core values instill a sense of purpose that works like performance rocket fuel.” When customers and employees have a sense that a company really is trying to improve their actions through moving back to core values, firms will be rewarded. It will give the firms a sense of purpose that the public will respond to and support.

    • Over the past 30 years, the concept of sustainability has evolved to reflect perspectives of both the public and private sectors. A public policy perspective would define sustainability as the satisfaction of basic economic, social, and security needs now and in the future without undermining the natural resource base and environmental quality on which life depends. From a business perspective, the goal of sustainability is to increase long-term shareholder and social value, while decreasing industry’s use of materials and reducing negative impacts on the environment. Common to both the public policy and business perspectives is recognition of the need to support a growing economy while reducing the social and economic costs of economic growth. Sustainable development can foster policies that integrate environmental, economic, and social values in decision making. From an organization perspective, they should development favors approach based on capturing system dynamics, building resilient and adaptive systems, anticipating and managing variability and risk, and earning a profit. Organization development should reflect not the trade-off between business and the environment but the synergy between them.

  3. Many organizations navigate for the future by learning from their past. This is a good way to learn but not a proactive approach to learning. A proactive approach is one which allows the leadership in an organization to foresee the future turbulences and navigate away from them. Successful future organizations should focus on buyer enablement. This will require companies to stop convincing and persuading their customers to buy the company’s products and instead think of how the they can empower buyers to achieve their business goals. Next it is important for organizations to continuously look for developing future trends. For example: today so many organizations are marketing on Facebook to attract customers, however tomorrow Facebook might become obsolete and some other website or device may be the future of reaching customers. Therefore organizations need to continuously stay up to date with the developing trends. The final and most important element for organizations to effectively navigate their operations for sustainability in the future requires having an excellent top management. All household names today like Microsoft, Apple, Toyota, and HP have had great leadership in the past which has allowed these organizations to be as successful as they are today.

  4. Knowledge workers produce and distribute ideas and information rather than goods or services. They are individuals with different aspirations from the hierarchy-conscious personnel of the past; they are also mobile and they do leave. Hiring talented people is difficult. Keeping them is more difficult still. So, to plug the drain of intellectual capital in a competitive knowledge economy, knowledge workers should be treated as an asset rather than as a cost. Preferably, they should be managed as though they were partners (or at least volunteers). It is important knowledge workers can see what impact they are having on the company in order to give a sense of involvement and accomplishment. “This can be accomplished by recognize outstanding talent wherever it is found, Establish clear task objectives and performance standards in consultation with each knowledge worker, Extend incentives, rewards, and reinforcements that meet the motivational patterns of
    each knowledge worker.”(1)

    (1) Serrat, O. (2008). Managing Knowledge Workers. Knowledge Solutions.

  5. Organizations navigate their operations toward sustainability by being responsive, not stuck. Sitting and waiting for the world to realize that your way is the right way and should be rewarded is short sighted and akin to waiting for your outdated clothing to come back in style. Organizations must adjust quickly to market and policy changes. President Obama’s health care reform plan will be implemented whether your health care organization likes it or not and a “sit and wait” attitude will get your funding cut and your staff laid off. To respond and adjust programming and operation now will give the organization an edge to outfox their competitors and gain the contracts (Renz, & Herman, 2010).

    Renz, D, & Herman, R. (2010). The jossey-bass handbook of not for profit leadership and management [3rd edition]. (Adobe Digital Edition), Retrieved from

  6. For an organization to effectively navigate its operations for sustainability in the future, managers, employees, and those who are essential to the organization’s success will have to effectively communicate and work together, even more so than what is needed today. They will have to take advantage of the available knowledge, resources, and core capabilities the organization possesses. Any long-term success depends on the shared skills, knowledge and experiences of those involved in the organization’s development and implementation policies toward sustainability (Jones, 2000). With the increasing abundance of advanced technology and knowledge workers, competition will also increase making successful sustainability imperative. The communication and knowledge collaboration of those in the organization should always be an ongoing process to sustain a successful business and a productive work environment. Jones conceptualizes sustainability “as more of a journey than a destination” (Jones, 2000). If managers and employees continually share and communicate their knowledge and valuable skills, the organization will only benefit and increase its sustainability in the future.

    Jones, D. (2000). A cultural development strategy for sustainability. Greener Management International, (31), 71.

  7. Organizations effectively navigate their operations for sustainability in the future by following new age trends on consumer demand. For example, the most common shift in consumer demand can be found in the “go green” mentality. Companies are faced with an overwhelming demand to adopt environmentally friendly processes. Although the technology is available, the costs are often high. So this presents a larger problem of providing eco friendly processes while continuing to provide products and services at a low cost. For those companies that had seen these trends early on are in a much better position to offer these new products. These companies are able to identify these up and coming trends by listening to consumers and providing research and development teams to undertake these new products.
    (1) Maung, Z. (2010). *Guardian Sustainable Business . Global businesses predict a more sustainable future

  8. Sustainability is birthed from innovation. However it is paramount that a firm possesses a culture of innovation. Developing a culture of innovation can be difficult and rather novel in our current business climate. W. L. Gore has a somewhat unique way in which it maintains a culture of innovation. It all begins with a climate where there are no official titles in the firm (Does Innovation, 2009). Everyone is called an associate. Terri Kelly, the CEO – although untitled, said that titles create an “assumed authority and power (Does Innovation, 2009).” With that barrier removed innovation occurs naturally as talented individuals attract followers and form teams and then lead new business growth. It is innovation through influence. Although this strategy may be unorthodox, Gore illiterates a principle that builds innovation into the firm’s makeup.

    Does Innovation Stem From Corporate Culture. Retrieved Nov 20, 2010 from TimeBack Mamagement:

  9. In a 2009 article of Community Banker, Paul Pierpoint; Dean of Northampton Community College’s Southside Center was quoted in regards to the current economic environment and the key steps to stay ahead of economic turbulence to ensure sustainability for an organization.

    Mr. Pierpoint stresses the importance of both short-term and long-term thinking for an organization. Sustainable companies must seek out opportunities while protecting the organization from current economic turbulence. “Sustainable organization must do two things well: They simultaneously utilize best practices to conserve current resources, and they prudently invest in human and capital resources for the future.”

    (2009). Sustainability: Why it matters most now. Community Banker, 18(4), 12. Retrieved from Business Source Premier database.

  10. In my opinion many companies send mixed messages out to their employees. A clear concise vision of where the company is going and how it plans to achieve the goals set out must be communicated. According to Helen Haugh “a company action to implement sustainable management solutions implicitly assumes that managers and employees are aware of and implement corporate sustainability policies and procedures. However this assumption can be a leap of faith–many employees may be unaware of sustainability issues beyond their immediate work responsibilities.” Many times companies’ loose site of the final goal set out in long term plans. I think the company must be strategic in planning and executing the plan.
    Haugh, H., & Talwar, A.. (2010). How Do Corporations Embed Sustainability Across the Organization? Academy of Management Learning & Education, 9(3), 384. Retrieved November 26, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 2174721501).

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