Building a Sustainable Corporate Culture-M.S. Srinivasan

(The corporate approach to sustainability involves mainly effluent treatment waste-recycling, energy conservation, stress on renewable energies and resources. And in a few organizations which have advanced further, there is an attempt to make the whole organizational or industrial process sustainable through environmental auditing and inventing greener and more sustainable alternatives for all materials. All these are necessary and commendable actions for achieving corporate sustainability. But still this approach is predominantly technological. For making the entire organization or institution sustainable, the corporate world has to take one more step. There must be a more integral, cultural attunement with the laws and ways of Nature.)

There is a greater than human wisdom in the way Nature manages her creation. We must understand this wisdom in Nature and make a conscious effort to attune the entire corporate life to this wiser laws and principles of Nature. This brings us to the question what are these laws or principles? The new science of ecology has discovered some fundamental principles behind the workings of biological Nature. Fritjof Capra, physicist and system theorist, in one of his writings on corporate sustainability gives the following list of principles which he calls as the Principles of Ecology:

1. Interdependence: All members of an ecosystem are interconnected in a web of relationships, in which all life processes depend on one another.

2. Ecological Cycles: The interdependencies among the members of an ecosystem involve the exchange of energy and resources in continual cycles.

3. Energy Flow: Solar energy, transformed into chemical energy by the photosynthesis of green plants, drives all ecological cycles.

4. Partnership: All living members of an ecosystem are engaged in a subtle interplay of competition and cooperation, involving countless forms of partnership.

5. Flexibility: Ecological cycles have the tendency to maintain themselves in a flexible state, characterized by interdependent fluctuations of their variables.

6. Diversity: The stability of an ecosystem depends on the degree of complexity of its network of relationships; in other words, on the diversity of the ecosystem.

7. Coevolution: Most species in an ecosystem coevolve through an interplay of creation and mutual adaptation.

8. Sustainability: The long-term survival of each species in an ecosystem depends on a limited re-source base. Ecosystems organize themselves according to the principles summarized above so as to maximize sustainability. (1)

Elaborating further on the implications of these principles for corporate sustainability, Capra explains: “A sustainable business organization will apply this principle to co¬operation and partnership along product cycles and in countless other ways, both internally within the company and industry-wide. Here we encounter again the basic tension between economics and ecology that we need to overcome. Economics deals with quantity, competition, expansion; ecology deals with quality, cooperation, conservation. The general shift from domination to partnership is an essential part of the shift from the mechanistic to the ecological paradigm.” (2)” In otherwords., a human organization or community can reach the highest level of sustainability, when its entire corporate life, its culture and values, strategy, systems and structures, process, technology and the material, energy and information flows are organized based on the principles of ecology described earlier. Here there is a whole new world and a vast domain for study, research, exploration and application. In this article we can only examine a few indicative suggestions.

Sustainable Management: Learning from Nature

 When we examine the ecological principles listed by Capra in a holistic perspective, we can see that Nature sustains and manages her creation predominantly through mutuality, cooperation, partnership and flexible adaptation. This doesn’t mean that there are no competitions or struggle in Nature. There is an element of competitive struggle in the biological and animal kingdom of Nature. The old Darwinian biology considered this struggle for survival as the primary law of Nature. But the new biology has discovered that competitive struggle is only a secondary or subordinate element in an over arching foundation of cooperation or partnership. A mutually sustaining or complementing partnership is the nature of relationship which binds organisms in Nature.

The other important discovery of New Biology is Co-evolution. Organisms in Nature evolve together along with the environment through a complex network of mutual interaction. The old Darwinian biology thought that the evolution of individual organisms in Nature is entirely shaped by environment. But the new biology has found that in biological evolution the influence and interaction between the organism and the environment is not one sided but mutual; not only environment shapes the evolution of organisms but also the organisms shape the environment. What are the implications of these new discoveries of life-sciences for sustainable management? There has to be a strategic shift from individualism and competition to teamwork and partnership both within the organization and also with its interaction with the larger environment. The central strategic query of sustainable management has to be, how to achieve sustainable wellbeing and progress of the larger whole of life by partnering with other stakeholders of the organization like the employees, customers, suppliers and the community and also, wherever necessary, with competitors, in a mutually beneficial and complementing partnership.

The other ecological principle relevant to management is flexible adaptation to the changing environmental condition. The sustainable organization must have a flexible structure which can respond quickly and effectively to the changing needs of the customer or the environment. Nature maintains her balance by what is called in ecology and system theory as “negative feed-back loops,” which detects and corrects unsustainable disturbances and restores balance. A sustainable organization should also have feedback systems for detecting, monitoring, and correcting deviations in all the vital functions or parameters which determine the long-term viability of the organization like for example in ethics and values, customer satisfaction, performance standards.

And finally the principle of diversity. Nature never promotes monoculture. A rich, harmonious and complex diversity is the main characteristics of the creativity of Nature. A sustainable organization should also promote such a rich diversity especially among its “human resources” and in all its creative self-expression in life. A rich diversity of temperament, capacities and way of looking, thinking or working together in a mutually complementing manner for the realization of common purpose is the path which can maximize organizational sustainability and also creativity.

The Psychological Sustainability: Inner Attunement with Nature

However, modern biology and ecology studies only biological Nature. But according to eastern spiritual tradition neither Nature nor Man is merely a biological organism. A human being is in its essence a consciousness, a psychological and spiritual being. And what is the universal source of this consciousness? It is not Universal Matter but the Universal Consciousness of Nature. In otherwords, we derive our consciousness, our psychological and spiritual being from the corresponding dimensions of the universal consciousness of Nature. If integral attunement or harmony with Nature is the highest aim of sustainable development then this attunement must happen not only at the physical or biological level but also at the psychological and spiritual levels of human being and the universal Nature. Just like there are laws of physics and biology governing the ecology of physical and biological Nature, there are laws of consciousness governing the psychological and spiritual dimensions of humans and Nature. The path to our psychological and spiritual sustainability lies in attuning our inner being or consciousness to the laws or ecology of the psychological and spiritual dimensions of Nature.

But how to do this? Here comes the importance of the ethical and spiritual principles and practices discovered by the spiritual traditions of the world, especially Indian yoga. What are modern sciences of physics, biology and ecology to physical and biological Nature, ethics and spirituality are to the psychological and spiritual dimensions of Nature. What are modern ecological practices like recycling to our physical sustainability, the path of Indian yoga is to our psychological and spiritual sustainability.


1. Fritjof Capra and Gunter Pauli, ‘The Challenge’, Steering Business Towards Sustainability, p.5 2. Ibid, p.5-6

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