Sustainable Development and Competitive Advantage


“The Celebration of Learning”

20 July 2012:


A Discussion Paper to Inform a Proposal for a Business Strategy Based on Sustainable Development



Paul Gilding

Image source: cnn.com

The Chief Executive Officer of your company recently attended a business seminar where Paul Gilding was the keynote speaker. Your CEO had not been that enthusiastic about attending and, before leaving the office, she had written off Gilding as “just another ‘greenie’ trying to undermine business”.

However, after attending the seminar, the CEO appears to have changed her opinion of Gilding, and she has referred you to a YouTube summary of his presentation.


Paul Gilding has spent the last 35 years trying to change the world. Among other things, he has served in the Australian military, served as global head of Greenpeace, taught at Cambridge University, started two successful businesses, and advised the CEOs of some the world’s largest companies.



Prior to attending the Gilding seminar, your CEO had not been exposed to the concept of sustainable development (or she had a misconception of the term, at least). Now, while her understanding remains at a largely superficial level, she has been persuaded that sustainable development might be of strategic importance to the company, and early adoption could assist in securing competitive advantage.

The CEO wants to put forward a draft proposal at the next Board Meeting. As she lacks expertise in this area, the CEO is seeking the counsel of staff within the organisation (many of whom are studying for MBAs) and has called for submissions in the form of discussion papers.

As a recent graduate of Sustainable Development and Competitive Advantage classes delivered by a leading French business school, you decide to make a submission. Your brief, very simply, is to critically evaluate the likely impact on the competitive position of the company if it were to pursue a business strategy based on sustainable development.

Your written report is due at the close of business today.



  • To help guide your thinking, you have discussed the matter with colleagues and, among other things, they suggest you contemplate the following:
  • Consider the theoretical underpinnings of sustainable development
  • What are the contending perspectives on sustainable development? Does the market mechanism help or hinder a move toward sustainable development?
  • What sort of changes in thinking are required to achieve sustainability? What are the obstacles to change that the company faces?
  • Is the company likely to be affected by public policy? Are the current policy settings (at a national and international level) supportive of a move toward sustainable development?



1.     In completing this task, be sure to draw on the concepts and analytical tools you have learnt about during the SDCA course, making direct references to the course materials (i.e. the blog, the PowerPoint slides, the online Study Guide, recommended readings, and video clips).

2.     The piece of writing you submit should be referenced in the normal way (following one of the internationally accepted referencing systems; e.g. the Harvard system).

3.     This is a broad question that invites a variety of ‘equally correct’ answers.

4.     High marks will be awarded for good depth of analysis and critical thinking, rather than content cut and pasted from websites and other electronic sources.

5.     You must email your response to jeremy@jeremybwilliams.net making sure you observe the file naming convention familyname.docx

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