Recognizing the limits: Sustainable development, corporate sustainability and the need for innovative business paradigms

Purpose of the paper: The study provides a theoretical analysis of the implications of sustainability in business, with a specific focus on the ecological dimension. In particular, we introduce key concepts from natural science and ecological economics into the field of management in order to highlight the limits that characterize the natural capital and our individual and organizational dependence on it.

Methodology: The paper draws upon a mix of literature review (management, ecology and ecological economics), action research and field studies.

Findings: The study presents the reasons for a profound transformation of the dominant business paradigm in order to address sustainability challenges. Furthermore, it introduces a conceptual framework to position and analyse corporate actions to manage environmental issues and identifies four areas of intervention and research as key drivers of transformational change.

Practical implications: By stressing the managerial importance of concepts like carrying capacity, critical natural capital, and ecosystem services and by pointing out the need for collaborative approaches, the paper advances innovative perspectives to analyse and develop sustainable business strategies and operations.

Research limitation: The paper shares the limits of conceptual works based on a deductive method. However, to address this limitation, the study is also supported and complemented by the empirical experience gained in more than two decades of fruitful collaboration with companies and institutions.

Originality of the paper: The study introduces concepts that are mainly developed in scientific disciplines. This provides an insightful contribution to the current debate on the real soundness of mainstream management theories and business practices, and to the quest for fitting alternatives.

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