University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Northstar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise

Embedded Sustainability is elemental to NiSE’s core work. Because NiSE is structured as a network whose primary function is to solve sustainability issues that are relevant to its network partners, sustainable practices to achieve this end are vital for the program and an ongoing innovation.

Embedded sustainability can be thought of as an internal capability that is expressed through the process of interaction. Core to NiSE’s logic is collaboration. Collaboration is an ongoing exercise in listening, asking questions, conversing to achieve scope and scale appropriate for each issue, and then working to find solutions through research and engagement.  GOLDEN is NiSE’s current initiative tackling this challenge on a global scale.


The Issue

Change and innovation are paramount to how business is done today. Successful organizations are the ones capable of adapting and changing with the external environment shifts.  Sustainability in firms is therefore dependent on the success of integration of the change process.  And embedded sustainability is the defined success of organizations who have achieved this over time.

But to date, the environmental field is still missing a large scale empirical investigation of the internal and the external dynamics that might influence the ability of firms to understand stakeholder expectations and change themselves to align their behavior accordingly. This initiative–the NiSE-GOLDEN project–will predominantly focus on the research question, ”How do firms learn to integrate and manage sustainability across their business?” This research question can only be understood by first understanding the organization and its processes.

Our Approach

In answering this question, the NiSE-GOLDEN initiative intends to focus its work around three primary objectives:

  1. Examine the processes by which firms organize at all levels to try to get at embedded sustainability.
  2. Assess the degree to which sustainability is integrated across key “frontline” and “operational” employees and contractors.  What knowledge do these individuals have of company programs? What impact does this knowledge have (morale, pride, retention, productivity, etc.)?
  3. Measure and benchmark the ability of the firms to constantly improve the quality of the outcomes associate with sustainability programs– in essence, identifying the presence of a “capacity to learn” how to change itself (through activities and culture) toward its own model of a sustainable enterprise.

Potential Impact and Expected Outcomes

The main benefit of participation in this initiative is the anticipated acceleration of internal learning and change processes related to increased integration of sustainability into strategic, operating and cultural processes. Each company’s investment of time and resources will be rewarded with a significant amount of managerial insights produced by the interactions with some of the leading scholars in the field, as well as through tailored, confidential, reports offering benchmarked analyses of the company’s processes and impacts and the opportunity to be highlighted as a case study for academic teaching.

Specific outcomes and benefits associated with pilot-phase participation include:

  • An initial assessment of the company’s Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability strategies, policies and processes across multiple facets and functions of the firm.
  • A benchmark analysis of the company’s positioning in relation to the performance of the other organizations participating in the Pilot (disguised and aggregated to ensure confidentiality).
  • A number of specific recommendations from leading experts in the field about potentially beneficial interventions to address the most urgent learning gaps.

Additional benefits associated with participating in the NiSE-GOLDEN network:

  • Engage with globally leading scholars across the disciplines of business, sociology, psychology, public policy, environmental sciences and engineering about how to improve sustainability management.
  • Share best practices among your peer companies in your industry and across industries.
  • Participate as actors, co-producers and coauthors in presentations, case studies, book chapters, managerial articles, etc. to signal leadership and help build supportive institutions for sustainable enterprise.
NiSE is a program of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment.

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