Can democracy handle corporate sustainability? Constructing a path forward

Suzanne Benn, Dexter Dunphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper we argue that the unifying theme of this century will be sustainability, that is, how to accommodate the world's growing population, providing a decent standard of living for all, while preserving and renewing an effective societal infrastructure and the biosphere on which all life depends. Here we ask whether a sustainable world is more readily achievable under some forms of democracy than others. A series of 6 concrete steps or phases is defined, that can help organizations survive and thrive while developing the capabilities of their workforce members, contributing to a rich and varied community life and sustaining and renewing the biosphere We conclude that the social-democratic tradition, on the whole, provides advantages for the initial rejection, non-responsiveness and compliance phases compared to the economic-liberal tradition. For organisations to move beyond compliance they need the support of economic incentives, ideologically compatible with both democratic regimes. However, there is a major advantage with the newer versions of social democracy which can offer strong standard setting as well as a wider range of environmental incentives. Finally, for organizations to work towards the ideal and address global and local issues of sustainability, democratic systems must foster the decision-making conditions of 'compliance plus' and align them with the demands of a new, 'sub-political' arena where sustainability will be the critical focus of debate and action. It is in this self-determining, multiple stakeholder and collaborative arena that corporations can develop the flexible relationships necessary for building, sharing and diffusing the tacit knowledge that can be transferred into innovative solutions for sustainability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-155
Number of pages15
JournalInnovation : management, policy & practice
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • corporate sustainability
  • social sustainability
  • environmental sustainability
  • social-democratic policy
  • economic-liberal policy
  • new social democracy
  • stakeholder relationships
  • collaboration
  • economic incentives


Dive into the research topics of 'Can democracy handle corporate sustainability? Constructing a path forward'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this