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Tackling sustainability tensions pragmatically: implications of paradoxical thinking.

Faculty Advisor




sustainability tensions, inter-temporal tension (ITT), business

Abstract (summary)

Business sustainability is fraught with tensions and tradeoffs that have received scant academic attention. We explore and discuss different types of real and cognitive sustainability tensions, particularly inter-temporal tension (ITT), and discuss why they surfaces. Arguably, the most challenging tension is the one that crosses both time and level; i.e. the tension between firm’s present and society’s future. Yet, firms can pragmatically weaken one type of tension and focus on other types. For instance, green businesses may resolve the tension between environmental and financial dimensions in the nature of their business and focus on ITTs in their daily practices. To investigate the tensions at firm level, we adopt paradoxical thinking but in a pragmatic approach. This informs us about the possibilities and consequences of addressing paradoxical tensions. We develop propositions and suggest four strategies to tackle the tensions: tradeoff, balancing, synthesis, and temporal slacking. By adopting these complementary strategies, firms can navigate through ITTs to achieve sustainability goals in their business practices. Evidences from development of recent electric vehicles help us clarify the theoretical arguments. The paper contributes to both domains of sustainability and organizational tensions. Potential paths for future research are discussed.

Publication Information

Chapardar, H. (2016). Tackling sustainability tensions pragmatically: Implications of paradoxical thinking. In John Humphreys (Ed.), Best Paper Proceedings of the Seventy-Sixth Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management.


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