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Business Process Management Journal

Insights into triple bottom line integration from a learning organization perspective
D. Jamali
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Business Process Management Journal, Vol. 12 Iss 6 pp. 809 - 821
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Triple bottom
Insights into triple bottom line line integration
integration from a learning
organization perspective
809
D. Jamali
Suliman S. Olayan School of Business, American University of Beirut,
Beirut, Lebanon
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Abstract
Purpose The notion of sustainability has been evolving and is increasingly understood to encompass
considerations of economic viability, as well as environmental sustainability and social responsibility. The
paper seeks to explore how linking these seemingly disparate pillars of sustainability may be facilitated
through a management orientation supporting continual adaptability and learning.
Design/methodology/approach Literature review and critical analysis.
Findings The relevance of core organizational learning characteristics to different aspects of
sustainability performance is outlined. The paper generally supports the view that a heightened
propensity for learning ensures that organizations are better equipped for meeting the challenge of
triple bottom line integration.
Originality/value Linking two traditionally separate and encapsulated areas of research, namely
the area of corporate sustainability and the area of learning organizations/organizational learning.
Keywords Corporate image, Social responsibility, Integration, Organizational development
Paper type General review

Introduction
Business corporations have traditionally been conceptualized as economic entities with
the main responsibility for producing goods and providing services as efficiently as
possible. With the advent of the sustainable development paradigm in the early 1980s,
corporations began to move away from their narrow economic conception of
responsibility and to make profound strategic adjustments in response to
environmental pressures and changing societal expectations (Robinson, 2000). The
1990s have witnessed a new shift in paradigms inspired in part by a growing
appreciation of the need to transition from environmental management to broader
sustainability management. Organizations are generally more inclined today to
broaden the basis of their performance evaluation from a short-term financial focus to
include long-term social, environmental and economic impacts and value added
(Hardjono and van Marrewijk, 2001). Hence, the conception of responsibility has
gradually broadened in both theory and more enlightened practice to include the
traditional economic function (e.g. products, jobs, growth), but also environmental
conservation and consideration of social impacts and public welfare. Yet despite a
growing international consensus about a more holistic conceptualization of corporate Business Process Management
social responsibility (CSR), the problem still facing organizations is the absence of a Journal
Vol. 12 No. 6, 2006
comprehensive management framework that would address, balance and integrate pp. 809-821
triple bottom line (TBL) considerations. It is argued in this paper that the daunting q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
1463-7154
challenge of integration may necessitate a more precise delineation of what each DOI 10.1108/14637150610710945
BPMJ responsibility entails coupled with flexible institutional arrangements and
12,6 management strategies that promote continual adaptability and learning.
The paper begins by describing the drivers and evolution of the CSR approach,
leading to a more precise delineation of the three dimensions of CSR and what each
responsibility entails. The concept of TBL integration is then introduced and the
relevance of organizational learning in the pursuit of sustainability highlighted.
810 Practical implications and insights inspired by a learning organization construct are
then derived to help companies in facing the sustainability challenge. The paper
generally supports the view that significant progress on the sustainability front can be
achieved if the characteristics of a learning organization can be successfully integrated
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into a sustainability focused organizational learning (SFOL) process, allowing


companies to reap the benefits of continuous learning and accumulated experience.

CSR and its three dimensions


CSR is a concept that has attracted worldwide attention and acquired a new resonance in
the global economy. Heightened interest in CSR in recent years has stemmed from the
advent of globalization and international trade, which have reflected in increased business
complexity and new demands for enhanced transparency and corporate citizenship.
Moreover, while governments have traditionally assumed sole responsibility for the
improvement of the living conditions of the population, societys needs have exceeded the
capabilities of governments to fulfill them. In this context, the spotlight is increasingly
turning to focus on the role of business in society and progressive companies are seeking to
differentiate themselves through engagement in what is referred to as CSR. The World
Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) defines CSR as the commitment
of business to contribute to sustainable economic development, working with employees,
their families and the local communities (WBCSD, 2001). More generally, CSR is a
comprehensive set of policies, practices and programs that are integrated throughout
business operations and decision-making processes and intended to ensure the company
maximizes the positive impacts of its operations on society or operating in a manner that
meets or exceeds the ethical, legal, commercial and public expectations that society has of
business (BSR, 2003).
At the core of the CSR debate is the idea that companies are accountable for their
actions not just formally to their owners but also in less well-defined ways to a group of
wider key stakeholders. This view has become central to the management of corporate
citizenship and social responsibility issues. Companies of various types are according
attention and trying to provide a public account of their relations with employees,
customers, business partners and governments, as well as the wider society and
community (Logan, 2001). Also implied in the debate is the idea that the private sector
is the dominant engine of growth the principle creator of value and managerial
resources and that it has an ethical obligation to contribute to economic growth and
opportunity equitable and sustainable. The private sector thus needs to accept its
responsibility as a democratic partner in a world characterized by complexity and
dwindling resources. CSR is therefore founded on a stronger recognition of the role of
business in society, advocating the need for corporations to practice good governance
and to contribute in innovative ways to their respective communities and societies.
Heightened interest in CSR has translated into growing concerns with how corporate
responsibility performance is measured and reported. At the international level, there
are an increasing number of codes of conduct and reporting standards being developed Triple bottom
by business, government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Some of the line integration
prominent contributions in this regard have come from the WBCSD, the Dow Jones
Sustainability Group Index (DJSGI) and the global reporting initiative (GRI). The
WBCSD has identified a number of core values as integral to CSR, namely human rights,
employee rights, environmental protection, community development, supplier relations,
and stakeholder rights. The community is thus an integrated stakeholder from this 811
perspective. The DJSGI provides a global, rational and flexible index for benchmarking
sustainability performance. It is intended to capture qualitative non-financial criteria
through its corporate economic, environmental and social sustainability criteria, which
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have been identified based on widely accepted standards, best practice and audit
procedures. The GRI is a multi-stakeholder international undertaking that has been
working since its inception in 1997 on designing a common framework for reporting on
the linked economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainability. The
economic dimension includes the reduction of operating costs through systematic
management, labor productivity, expenditures on research and development and
investments in training and other forms of human capital. The environmental
component addresses primarily the impacts of processes, products and service on the
environment, biodiversity and human health while the social element encompasses
workplace health and safety, working conditions, human rights issues, and labor rights
(Knoepfel, 2001; GRI, 2003).
While these various initiatives combine to suggest that the corporate responsibility
debate today is broad ranging, there seems to be an evolving consensus on the critical
importance of attending to the economic, environmental and social dimensions of CSR
(Table I).
The economic dimension refers to financial viability. It encompasses issues of
competitiveness, job and market creation and long-term profitability. Economic
sustainability is increasingly understood to refer to generating added value in a wider
sense, rather than conventional financial accounting. The economic and financial
aspects of sustainability therefore may encompass (ICC, 2002):
.
reducing operating costs through the systematic management of resources;
.
reducing the cost of doing business and attracting new business through
rigorous business integrity policies;

Dimension Description Example

Economic Moving beyond conventional financial Reducing the cost of doing business
accounting by according attention to new through rigorous business integrity
measures of wealth such as the policies
human/intellectual capital that firms Increasing productivity through a
develop motivated workforce
Environmental Studying the implications of resource Environmental policy; environmental
consumption, energy use and the effects audits and management systems and
of the firm on ecological integrity environmental liabilities
Social Maximizing the positive impacts of a Issues of public health, social justice and
firms operations on broader society inter and intra organizational equity
Table I.
Sources: Knoepfel (2001) and GRI (2003) Key dimensions of CSR
BPMJ .
increasing productivity through a motivated workforce;
12,6 .
attracting a new range of investors; and
.
offering opportunity for inclusion in socially responsible investment indices.

The environmental dimension focuses on an organizations impact on living and


non-living natural systems, including ecosystems, land, air and water. Environmental
812 responsibility involves more than compliance with all applicable government regulations
or even initiatives such as recycling or energy efficiency. It involves a comprehensive
approach to a companys operations, products, and facilities that includes assessing
business products, processes and services; eliminating waste and emissions; maximizing
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the efficiency and productivity of all assets and resources; and minimizing practices that
might adversely affect the enjoyment of the planets resources by future generations.
The social dimension the new strand of corporate sustainability centers on the
impact of the organization on the social systems within which it operates. The
expectations of diverse groups of internal and external stakeholders as well as interest
groups comprising civil society are genuinely considered and skillfully balanced. The
social bottom line incorporates issues of public health, community issues, public
controversies, skills and education, social justice, workplace safety, working
conditions, human rights, equal opportunity, and labor rights.
Sustainability therefore is currently used to refer to a companys ability to maintain
and demonstrate a positive economic, environmental and social performance over the
long-term. Notwithstanding the compelling message of the TBL, the economic
performance of a company is still critical to its credibility and continuity and thus still
features as a basic core dimension of CSR. But being socially responsible is increasingly
understood to also involve environmental stewardship and active societal involvement
and concern (Windsor, 2001). The challenge therefore facing organizations today is to
shift their priorities toward more holistic performance assessment models that
encompass measures related to both multiple stakeholders and responsibilities.

Triple bottom line integration


The TBL approach pioneered by the Institute of Social and Ethical Accountability
emphasizes that companies are responsible for multiple impacts on society, with
associated bottom lines. TBL as it is evolving is a systematic approach to managing
the complete set of a companys responsibilities. At its narrowest, the term is used to
refer to a framework for measuring and reporting corporate performance against
economic, social and environmental parameters. At its broadest, the term is used to
capture the whole set of values, issues and processes that companies must address in
order to maximize the positive impacts of their activities and generate added economic,
social and environmental value (Elkington, 1999). The TBL approach therefore looks at
how corporations manage and balance all three responsibilities (economic,
environmental, and social) and attempts to reconcile these inter-related spheres of
activity for a more balanced view of overall corporate performance (Sauvante, 2002;
Panapanaan, 2002; McDonough and Braungart, 2002).
While the appeal of TBL integration cannot be discounted, managing the trade-offs
between the three legs of sustainability remains a challenge. There is indeed to date no
precise management framework that provides for the linking of these fundamental, yet
seemingly disparate pillars of sustainability and for reconciling traditional financial
performance with environmental and social contributions (GRI, 2003). This is despite Triple bottom
rising pressure and accumulating evidence that the ability to report verifiable line integration
information on all three aspects of sustainability is likely to become the sine qua non of
competitive advantage. As Elkington (1999) argues:
Environmental reporting is now well established, as of course, is financial reporting. But
further challenges lie ahead for companies looking to evaluate social indicators in such areas
as community employee and supplier relationships. The pressure for accountability, together 813
with the significant expense of producing the data, will develop powerful pressures towards
the integration of financial, social and environmental accounting and reporting . . .
Companies and their stakeholders will have no option but to address this emerging triple
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bottom line.
The question therefore facing organizations is whether TBL integration is practically
feasible and what can be realistically suggested to enhance the process. While it is clear
that organizations need to broaden the basis of performance evaluation from a short-term
financial focus to include long-term social, environmental and economic impacts and value
added, specific guidelines on how to proceed remain elusive. Even those companies that
have embraced sustainability in their rhetoric or policy commitments are finding it
difficult to take sustainability issues forward in practice. It is suggested in this paper that
an appropriately facilitated learning process can accelerate the transition to sustainability
and take organizations a long way in facing the challenge of TBL integration.

Linking TBL integration and organizational learning


Several scholars have argued that a high capacity for learning is a crucial feature of
successful organizations in the modern world (Bedeina, 1986; Mohrman and
Cummings, 1989; Senge, 1990). The capacity of an organization to learn effectively
is believed to play an essential role in corporate renewal (Brown, 1990),
entrepreneurship (Lant and Mezias, 1990), organizational innovation (Brown and
Dugold, 1991) and sustainability performance (Nattrass and Altomare, 1999; Senge and
Carstedt, 2001). While links between organizational learning and sustainability remain
preliminary, the two streams of activity are showing signs of increasing convergence
(Molnar and Mulvihill, 2002).
Nattrass and Altomare (1999, p. 5) stress the importance of organizational learning
in the pursuit of sustainability:
Our research has shown that for those business corporations that make the commitment to
sustainable development, the understanding and practice of the organizational learning
disciplines will be the indispensable pre-requisites of a successful transformation to
sustainability.
Senge and Carstedt (2001) similarly recommend nurturing core learning competencies
in facing the sustainability challenge and building sustainable enterprises. Senge et al.
(1999) argue that sustainability can be fostered through the development of an
organizational learning culture that embraces/fosters learning and change.
Sustainability is indeed best treated as a dynamic unfolding change process. As
Van de Bergh argues, it is a balanced adaptive process of change in a
multi-dimensional complex integrated system (Van de Bergh, 1996). Sustainable
organizations are continually renewing their processes and products and adapting
them where necessary. Openness to change is therefore a basic ingredient in the
BPMJ transition to sustainability. Implied here is a conception of change as a profound
12,6 learning and evolution process. It is therefore hardly surprising that in the relentless
pursuit of sustainability, progressive organizations have realized the need to nurture
the principles that underpin the concept of a learning organization.
A learning organization is an ideal type of action and change-oriented enterprise in
which learning is maximized (Porth et al., 1999). A company is a learning organization
814 to the degree that it has purposefully built its capacity to learn as a whole system and
woven that capacity into its vision and strategy, leadership and management, culture,
structure, systems and processes (Teare, 1997; Goh, 2003). It is an organization in
which members are collectively engaged in identifying and solving problems, enabling
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the organization to continuously change and improve (Rowden, 2001). Learning


organizations start with the assumption that learning is valuable, continuous and most
effective when shared and that every experience is an opportunity to learn.
Some of the most commonly cited defining characteristics of a learning organization
are compiled in Table II. Particularly important are the notions of systems-level
thinking and learning culture. Systems level thinking simply implies that
organizations as collectivities should be concerned with sustainability. They should
also foster a culture of learning and experimentation. There is a history in
organizations of emphasis on exploiting new ideas without paying equal attention to
the more time intensive process of creative exploration. Because of this predilection,
organizations have developed a habit of quick fixes superficial learning, and have
not developed a sufficient threshold of adaptability.
As shown in Table II, learning at the organizational level involves creating
systems/processes, which put in place long-term capacities to capture knowledge, to
support knowledge creation and to empower continuous transformation. In their
pursuit of sustainability and TBL integration, organizations must therefore efficiently
and effectively create, capture, harvest, shape and apply sustainability-related
knowledge and insights. They must also have the capacity to bring that knowledge to
bear on problems and opportunities as they emerge, and develop a dynamic capability
to continuously replenish it.
Pursuing TBL integration means embracing ambiguity in dealing with an elusive
and diverse array of issues and values. As the complexity of decisions increases,
managers may increasingly lack the necessary expertise and capacity to make
sustainability management choices that integrate the range of issues involved. The key
role of learning in managing the uncertainty facing organizations and creating added
value is becoming recognized as increasingly important as are the dynamic
organizational learning capabilities underpinning it.
Learning within the context of learning organizations is thus increasingly conceived
as a dynamic mechanism of continuous adaptability that underpins a positive change
orientation. It is therefore hardly surprising that advocates of corporate sustainability
and practitioners of organizational learning are beginning to perceive common threads
between the two streams of activity, in the sense that both require a challenge to
mental models, fostering fundamental change, engaging extensive collaborative
activity, and in some cases, revisiting core assumptions about business and its
purpose. The next section offers more specific suggestions on what corporations can do
to enhance TBL integration and how the characteristics of the learning organization
outlined above can be successfully integrated into a SFOL process.
Triple bottom
Characteristic Description
line integration
Presence of tension Creative tension is a reflection of the gap between the
evolving vision and practical reality
Creative tension is often evidenced by
questioning, inquiry, and challenging the
status-quo 815
Systems level thinking and learning Organizations as collectivities that nurture both
individual and organizational learning
Emphasis on improving individual effectiveness but
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also on systematically capturing and building on


individual knowledge/insight
Participative policy-making Contribution and involvement of all relevant
stakeholders (internal and external) in policy-making
An effective dialogue and consensus building
process that capitalizes on the input, feedback and
active involvement of concerned stakeholders
A learning culture Cultural values of openness, experimentation and
improvisation are embraced
Time for reflection, communication and evaluation
and tolerance for mistakes
Knowledge is embedded in the organization and
stored in its culture
Information sharing and collaboration Clear and open channels for the development and
dissemination of knowledge
Information technology used to inform and empower
Team building and shared purpose A team spirit based on trust, respect and cooperation
A sense of purpose and interconnectedness within
the organization
Continuous training and development Resources and facilities for self-development made
available to all members of the organization
Employees encouraged to take responsibility for
their own learning and development
Leadership Leadership to catalyze pockets of learning which are
then shared with the rest of the organization
Roles revolving around visioning, empowerment and
leading-learning
Constant readiness A constant state of readiness, not for any specific
change, but for change in general
A state of attunement to the environment and
willingness to question ways of doing business
Formative accounting and control The systems of accounting and reporting are
structured to assist learning and innovation
Action learning Action orientation punctuated by critical
reflective assessment and course
adjustment
Boundary spanning and inter-company learning Permeable boundaries allowing close and
continuous interaction with external
stakeholders Learning from customers,
suppliers, and competitors
Table II.
Sources: Luthans et al. (1995), Leitch et al. (1996), Appelbaum and Reichart (1998), Porth et al. (1999) Defining characteristics
and Rowden (2001) of a learning organization
BPMJ Practical implications and insights
12,6 Clearly, organizations are at different stages of maturity and learning on sustainability
and it is difficult to draw comparisons between them. Prescribing one single, all
encompassing formula for enhancing TBL integration in a diversity of organizations
and sectors is thus impractical. Moreover, the learning organization model outlined
above is an ideal; no pure one exists. Given that there is no universal blueprint, it is
816 often not sufficient to copy the approaches used by firms heralded as learning
organizations. Companies must discover their own solutions, not borrow them. Some
companies do not necessarily have to take up radical new ideas or create vast new
systems. Effective change can come through harnessing existing strengths and
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re-shaping current strategies.


Recognizing that TBL is complex and multi-faceted, the need to approach
sustainability as a systematic business process becomes more pressing. It is hence
recommended to work within the context of a sustainability performance measurement
(SPM) framework that is effectively integrated into company strategic planning and
day-to-day operations. A comprehensive SPM framework integrates economic,
environmental and societal performance indicators and combines lagging or outcome
indicators (e.g. reduction in material intensity) as well as leading or business process
indicators (e.g. assessment of internal practices or tools). The latter can help managers
monitor progress toward achieving sustainability objectives.
A typical SPM process comprises the three phases of planning, implementing and
reviewing (Fiksel et al., 1999). In the planning phase, managers create a sustainability
vision that addresses the companys most significant concerns. In light of this vision,
sustainability strategies and objectives are identified and specific metrics selected. The
implementation phase entails institutionalizing new practices or processes that will
move the company in the sustainability directions identified. The reviewing phase
entails tracking performance and progress toward specified targets, internal and
external reporting on performance, and initiating improvement efforts.
As shown in Figure 1, the organizational learning characteristics identified earlier
(Table II) can help companies in facing the sustainability challenge in each phase of
their SPM process. It is argued in this paper that a SFOL process that integrates those
core learning competencies helps companies in facing the sustainability challenge and
achieving a more effective TBL integration. The following paragraphs walk the reader
sequentially through the diagram (Figure 1), highlighting the relevance of the different
organizational learning elements in promoting sustainability objectives and their
integration.
A SFOL process is helpful in the visioning phase which entails making a serious
commitment to responsible practice through a well-articulated sustainability vision
and associated values. A sustainability vision can provide an organizational roadmap
to guide future development, providing it is coherent enough to create a recognizable
picture of the future, and realistic enough to generate commitment to performance. For
companies wishing to pursue TBL integration, the vision can express managerial
commitment for expanded responsibility objectives, including financial, social and
environmental targets (Waddock et al., 2002).
The visioning process can be used for re-positioning the sustainability challenge at
the top of the corporate agenda and reinforcing commitment to specific targets. Within
a learning organization context, the vision can be repeatedly communicated and
Leadership Triple bottom
Participative Participative
policy-making policy-making line integration
Sustainability
vision

Review/Adaptation
Definition of sustainability 817
strategies
Constant readiness
Boundary spanning
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Action learning

Monitoring

Implementation
Figure 1.
The relevance of
organizational learning
Systems-level thinking and learning
characteristics. In
Team building specific phases of a
Continuous training and development sustainability
Learning culture performance
Information sharing and collaboration measurement cycle
Formative accounting and control

constantly reassessed. It entices organizations to move beyond the rhetoric of


sustainability and TBL integration to formulate a clearer conceptualization of their
desired sustainability outcomes and overall direction. The role of leadership in this
respect is critically important in sketching an appealing and realistic sustainability
roadmap and fostering a learning climate (Johnson, 1998; Hailey and James, 2002).
In line with organizational learning principles, the formulation of the vision should
rely on a participative policy making process, eliciting the contribution and
involvement of the widest possible pool of relevant stakeholders (internal and
external). The vision therefore needs to be formulated in the context of an effective
dialogue with internal and external stakeholders. The aim is to build consensus around
the companys values and vision of sustainability and identify win-win solutions. This
involves actively seeking the feedback and inputs of relevant stakeholders and
engaging in continuing dialogue to ensure that their interests and concerns have been
genuinely considered, balanced and reflected and are steering the organization in the
desired sustainability directions (Meppem and Gill, 1997). The dialogue with these
parties will be vital in gaining ownership and commitment to the way forward. It is
self-evident that an organization which attempts to meet its own objectives in ways
which are not also acceptable or satisfying to its stakeholders will eventually fail
because the motivation, good will and potential contribution of its members have not
been fully engaged.
Translating vision into reality requires in turn the integration of the sustainability
vision into strategies, practices and measurement systems. Institutionalization
depends on a long-term commitment to systemic change as well as the introduction of
appropriate structures, practices and processes. It is worth noting in this respect that
corporate architectures can in some cases impede sustainability, particularly when the
BPMJ established routines and organizational systems are designed to insulate the firm and
12,6 protect and promote the status quo (Griffiths and Petrick, 2001). The organizational
learning characteristics of systems level thinking and learning, continuous training
and development, learning culture, team building, information sharing, and formative
accounting and reporting are particularly useful in terms of building a collective
inclination for sustainability action.
818 Systems-level learning implies that organizations as collectivities should nurture
individual and organizational learning and focus not only on improving individual
effectiveness, but also on systematically capturing and building on individual insight.
Individual training and self-development opportunities are also crucial because it is
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through learning and training that employees develop the conceptual framework and
shared mental models (new/shared ways of thinking) that make it possible to explore
what is sustainable and unsustainable behavior. Learning culture means fostering a
culture of creative exploration and experimentation. The concept is also used to imply
that employees and leadership may change but an organizations memories preserve
norms, values, and mental maps overtime. As an organization addresses problems of
sustainability, it builds a culture that becomes the repository for lessons learned. Team
building is useful for addressing sustainability challenges within the context of
interactive teams. Teams in turn provide a manageable forum for embedding
sustainability values and cultural change. Information sharing implies that information
technology can be effectively mobilized to inform and empower and disseminate
relevant sustainability-related information both internally and externally. Formative
accounting and reporting are also needed to provide feedback to external stakeholders,
but also to provide important internal information about performance to managers and
employees. These organizational learning characteristics combine in fostering an
effective learning environment and in nurturing and institutionalizing the dynamics,
behaviors and corporate innovations supporting sustainability.
Finally, in the monitoring and reviewing phase, the organizational learning
characteristics of boundary spanning, constant readiness and action learning acquire
particular salience and relevance. Boundary spanning is essential in terms of
maintaining permeable organizational boundaries and close and regular interactions
with relevant stakeholders. Involving managers and external stakeholders in progress
reviews and communications and decisions on course adjustment is evidently
important, and will create a forum for learning where stakeholders can identify common
problems and explore higher-order solutions. The organizational learning competency
of constant readiness implies an organization that is ready for change in general, is
attuned to its environment and willing to question its fundamental ways of doing
business. Action learning refers to taking action, reflecting and adjusting course as
needed and in the process generating new learning, perspectives and orientations. These
characteristics combine to suggest why the learning organization model is emerging to
help firms plan and execute significant change and to become more sophisticated in
their ability to face the challenge of sustainability and TBL integration.

Conclusion
Sustainability is an evolutionary, unfolding process of change. If conceived this way, it
becomes clear that an openness to change and learning are basic pre-requisites in the
transition to sustainability. This rather simple rationale in turn explains the salience
and usefulness of organizational learning in promoting sustainability in general and Triple bottom
TBL integration in specific. The research presented here supports the conclusion that line integration
sustainability management systems must be innovative learning models, inspired by
the principles that underpin the learning organization construct.
While it is neither realistic nor desirable to expect the creation of a monolithic
management approach to enhance sustainability and TBL integration, the research
suggests that sustainability performance can be improved by adopting the characteristics 819
of a learning organization. These characteristics include systems level thinking and
learning, a participative policy-making process, a culture that facilitates learning,
information sharing and collaboration, team building, action learning, and boundary
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spanning.
It has been suggested that organizational learning is a distinct organizational
capability one that can be nurtured over time and one that can be directed and
channeled in the pursuit of sustainability (Meppem and Gill, 1997). This paper
emphasizes the intentional use of learning processes, to move the organization in the
desired sustainability directions and in ways that are increasingly satisfying to all
concerned stakeholders. Learning is a hard-won goal, which depends as much on
formal training, effective information systems and human resource management
strategies, as on informal participatory processes.
Significant progress on the sustainability front can be achieved if the characteristics
of a learning organization can be successfully integrated into a SFOL process, allowing
companies to reap the benefits that accrue from continuous learning and accumulated
experience. SFOL appears to be a promising catalyst of change in the pursuit of
sustainability. The combination of the two challenges sustainability and
organizational learning can potentially create an interesting synergy and stimulate
new sustainability innovations, both theoretical and practical.

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Corresponding author
D. Jamali can be contacted at: dj00@aub.edu.lb

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