Maybe this is a strange headline but during the whole course I had to think about it. At the beginning of course we were thought what the meaning of Sustainable Development is: Inter- and intragenerational equity, no waste of natural capital, careful use of regenerative resources (that can still regenerate) and a pollution-rate that the nature can still absorb. So that’s the challenge we are facing and I feel really committed to.
The next step was that we were introduced to the (neo-)classical system and that it fails to handle the challenge of Sustainable Development. It is just looking for growth which indeed – on the long run – doesn’t fit with SD. If we now start talking about Competitive Advantage as an instrument to face the challenge of SD, it is like using one of the most powerful instrument (or slogan) of the system we blamed before.
Of course in the cases where we can find a Competitive Advantage and we use this, it will help to solve some problems. But there is nothing new about it. This is a business rule that is as old as business is itself. And even a manager who has absolutely no commitment to SD would take this advantage. So it is rather an ecological (and SD-) instrument than a lack of the (classical) economical system with absolutely no change in mentality or attitude. If a few years later a technology is developed that is cheaper but causes more pollution, companies will change their technology again because of the Competitive Advantage. New discovered Competitive Advantages had always been taken – long before anybody was talking about SD.
The real challenge begins where the both theories (SD and CA) don’t go in the same direction…
The real challenge begins where the both theories (SD and CA) don’t go in the same direction. And I’m wondering if management in a free capitalism would be able to face the challenge or at least if it should be their task? I think both not. In order to create SD there is a need to change the (legislative) framework in a way that brings the goals of the two systems (SD and CA) together. We need a framework where it leads to SD when companies go on acting just on their own interests. So I really believe that the problem can’t be fixed by management and that it is more an economical problem. Although most governments today are less powerful than some world-wide acting companies, they are the ones who could build up the (world-wide-)framework to reach SD. Companies will always have to make profits that’s what they are made for. But it is still good to teach future managers the spirit of SD, because if they feel a commitment to SD, they can use their power to influence governments that they faster change the framework, so that they are able to compete with “the bad companies”.
There could also be the idea that the people of a country could force companies to behave sustainable by just asking for high quality and environmental-friendly produced products. But in my opinion that is just a nice dream. There are economical theories like the social dilemma or the Low-cost-hypothesis which can point out that this probably won’t work. Social dilemma is about the fact that the best solution for the whole group is not congruent to the best solution of an individual member. Here it is again just the framework that is able to unite the best solution of the individual with the one for the whole group.
To sum it up: It is important that management and people are aware and sensitive of environmental problems, but on a long-term view it is the responsibility of the government(s of the world) to create a sustainable framework. Competitive Advantage can serve or do harm to SD, so these words are not necessarily linked.