Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


“Corporate Environmental Sustainability” has become a widely used term. It implies that an individual firm has the capacity to effectively manage and control the harm inflicted upon the natural environment by its processes, products and business models – a notion we refer to as an organization’s “manageability of environmental impact”. This paper argues that the organization-level concept of corporate sustainability cannot be meaningfully discussed unless it is understood in light of three conditions: market growth dynamics, ecosystems complexity, and supply chain structure. These economic, ecological and industry-organizational conditions outside the organization’s boundaries severely limit an organization’s manageability of its environmental impact, suggesting that the cheerfully optimistic connotations of the concept “corporate sustainability” must be tempered accordingly. Using market growth rates and environmental impact manageability, we develop four scenarios to further illustrate the dynamics and challenges to sustainability in each setting, and derive implications for management research and practice.