Implementing sustainability in large public organizations: impacts of bureaucracy

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Keysar, Elizabeth J.
Elliott, Michael
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Environmental Planning theory tells us that continued improvement in environmental outcomes will require new approaches that are voluntary; behavior change will come from within organizations, not imposed from outside. The concept of sustainability fits in this new phase of environmental planning and policy. In order for organizations to be successful in achieving sustainability goals, they must create an organizational context that produces innovative ideas (considered a strength of organic or learning organizations), along with an organizational context that effectively manages and implements continuous change (considered a strength of bureaucratic organizations). Effectively striking this balance appears to be a key component of making progress in sustainability for large public organizations. The research completed through this doctoral dissertation addresses gaps in the literature by asking the question: How have large public organizations implemented sustainability programs? A multiple case study design was used that examined three large public organizations that have adopted sustainability goals and established programs for achieving these goals. The data were analyzed based on a conceptual framework that predicts the types of activities and attributes organizations will exhibit to successfully achieve sustainability goals. The results demonstrate that sustainability implementation in these organizations is dependent upon leadership support, cross-functional teams, orientation to the external environment, effective management systems and consistent support over time. Bureaucratic organizations are structured to effectively accomplish the core mission, but if they also want to be more sustainable, they must adopt and promote more organic attributes to enable change, learning and innovation.
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