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Different forms of organisational sustainability

In this section we explore the different ways in which organisations demonstrate sustainability leadership.
An open plan modern office with lots of plants and greenery

It is worth looking at some other organisations to see how the way they structure themselves might be applied in your context. Below are some examples of different ways companies may be organised to help them achieve sustainability.

Just born that way

The ‘for good’ company, set up to deliver social or environmental benefit. On the top end of the scale this includes Social Enterprises (e.g. Solar Sister or Terracycle), where the primary purpose for the company is addressing a social or environmental challenge, rather than creating profit for owners or shareholders. On the other end of the scale and more commonly are Ethical Businesses. The reason for these companies existing are still to creating profit for its shareholders, but an ethics-based approach to issues like the environment, trade practices, and community development are a central aim and outcome.

IKEA and Unilever are two companies in this category, both of whom continue to be listed as one of the top three corporate leaders in the Globescan Sustainability Leaders Report [1].

Responding to the consumer

Many businesses become sustainability leaders due to consumer demand.

M&S, aware that the retail sector was facing huge disruption in the shift to online shopping, the growing importance of services over physical products and rising consumer preference for sustainable businesses, introduced Plan A [2] as a way to ‘Make M&S Special Again’.


Plan A is a multi-year sustainability transformation plan. Since 2010, it has received over 50 awards in recognition of their sustainability accomplishments within the property arena.


But what if you don’t like the whole operating environment? Companies like Amazon, Uber and AirBnB challenged the whole premise of how you sell books, how you get around, and where you can stay when you are away.

In the world of sustainable homes and buildings, examples of disruptive companies include Biohm (Mycelium Insulation) and HOMIE (pay per use home appliances).


Community organisation

But of course companies aren’t the bodies that organise to modify and improve the built environment. There are many examples of communities organising to build their homes and streets according to their own needs and sustainability objectives.

The Wiconi Community Project [3] is a multi-generational affordable housing cooperative envisioned as a zero-energy prototype by Native American elder Henry Red Cloud for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Dakota, one of the US’s poorest communities. The layout acknowledges traditional extended family relationships – a ring of tipis around a communal fire. Local labourers will train in the manufacture of EarthInBlocks [4] compressed earth blocks and renewable energy systems while employed in the construction, contributing to the tribal economy. The cost of each home is equivalent to their existing poorly-insulated mobile housing, but they are passive solar homes powered by community renewable energy, taking families out of fuel poverty.

In the UK, Granby Four Streets [5] is an ongoing community-led project to rebuild a Liverpool neighbourhood nearly made derelict by poorly-planned regeneration initiatives. It has been praised for its bottom-up approach to creative engagement. Over the past decade local residents cleaned and planted their streets, painted empty houses and organised a monthly market, after years of battling plans for unnecessary demolition, it is now a thriving multi-cultural area with streets full of plants, an arts and social hub: a community built on collaboration and a sense of belonging.

If I’d have done it on my own in the way I wanted, nothing would have been achieved.
– Long-term resident of Granby Four Streets, Hazel Tilley.

Will how your organisation is structured affect the way you behave within it? What behaviours are acceptable and which ones feel risky? Do you think you can learn from different business and organisational models to embed sustainable thinking in your organisation?


  1. (report on the Internet), Globescan: The 2020 Sustainability Leaders.
  2. (page on the Internet), Marks & Spencer: Sustainability.
  3. (page on the Internet), Sharon Davis Design: Projects.
  4. (website on the Internet), Earth in Blocks.
  5. (website on the Internet), Granby 4 Streets.
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An Introduction to Sustainability in the Built Environment

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