Organizations, Learning, and Sustainability: A Cross-Disciplinary Review and Research Agenda

M. Feeney*, T. Grohnert, W. Gijselaers, P. Martens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review

2 Citations (Web of Science)


This paper explores the role of learning in organizational responses to sustainability. Finding meaningful solutions to sustainability challenges requires companies and other actors to broaden their thinking, go beyond organizational boundaries and engage more with their stakeholders. However, broadening organizational perspective and collaborating with diverse stakeholders involves inherent political and process-related tensions. Learning has been identified as a key organizing process for overcoming the challenges that arise through collaborative action for sustainability. In order to understand the role of learning in organizational responses to sustainability, we conduct a cross-disciplinary systematic review of the literature on learning for sustainability and incorporate perspectives from diverse disciplines including business, management, environmental science, sociology, policy, urban planning, and development. The review explores how different disciplines conceptualize and operationalize learning for sustainability and identifies the common themes and challenges. Our findings highlight the different ways that power relations influence learning and decision-making processes, and how entrenched traditional value structures and 'reflexive complicity' limit practitioners and researchers alike in finding meaningful sustainability solutions. We conclude that shifting how we motivate business and management research on learning for sustainability, in a way that prioritizes sustainability outcomes over firm performance, could bring us a step closer to more meaningful responses to sustainability. Similarly, breaking patterns of 'reflexive complicity' by key actors in business could assist in shifting toward more radical and long-term responses to sustainability in practice.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Feb 2022


  • Learning & development
  • Multi-stakeholder initiatives
  • Sustainability

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