Title: Business planning for unintended consequences - good intentions are not enough

Authors: Genevieve Mortimer

Addresses: Chair of Sustainability and Management, University of Hamburg, Germany; Thünen Institute of International Forestry and Forest Economics, Leuschnerstraße 91, 21031, Hamburg, Germany

Abstract: Unintended consequences are at the heart of a dilemma for firms acting on corporate sustainability. On the one hand, corporate sustainability encourages businesses to take bold, timely and ethical action to address society's grand challenges. On the other, due to the complexity and unpredictability of our world, action brings with it a higher risk of unintended consequences. This paper makes the case that unintended consequences are real and an important consideration for businesses taking action to improve their sustainability in complex environments. This paper develops a framework which positions unintended consequences among other business concepts. Further, I demonstrate fear of unintended consequences is a challenge that can further hinder corporate action on sustainability. However, developing tools and processes to detect unintended consequences, learn from them and respond innovatively provides an opportunity for businesses to better manage in uncertain and complex environments. This paper demonstrates why, in a complex world, a strategy for unintended consequences is needed to empower action on corporate sustainability strategy.

Keywords: unintended consequences; corporate sustainability; environmental complexity; organisational learning; paradox; sustainability inaction; business planning; contingency planning; sustainable development.

DOI: 10.1504/IJSSM.2016.080467

International Journal of Sustainable Strategic Management, 2016 Vol.5 No.2, pp.87 - 102

Accepted: 23 Aug 2016
Published online: 24 Nov 2016 *

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