From Intent to Action: How to Incorporate Sustainability into Business Practices and Strategy

Sara Andersson

Student thesis: Master thesis


The year of 2015 can be regarded as a pivotal year for sustainable development. In September, a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be adopted at the UN headquarters in New York that will guide development efforts for the next fifteen years. As the world is facing an increasing display of environmental, social and economic challenges, it is evident that it will be of importance to certify businesses participation in implementing the SDGs. Fittingly, a majority of business leaders are today recognizing that addressing sustainability can place companies in positions of long-term strength. However, while CEOs are acknowledging the importance of sustainability, the actual incorporation of sustainable practices has proven to be less frequent and a large gap exists between intent and action. The purpose of the thesis is thus to identify key success factors for how firms successfully can incorporate sustainability into strategy and business practices, as this can contribute to ensuring that the business sector aligns operations with a changing external environment and partakes in implementing the SDGs. Empirical data is collected through a multiple case study. Five Swedish companies are analyzed using an analytical framework that has its foundation in stakeholder theory and the resource-based view. Further, the analytical framework incorporates research from the CSR and sustainability field focusing on the sustainability incorporation process. The results of the study indicate that companies early should develop a sustainability strategy that can guide the company. If not, companies’ sustainability work risk being disorganized and fractioned. Education, internal communication and a proper framework for monitoring and evaluation were further implied to be of importance. However, such supplementary instruments should be developed as part of an overall framework that supports the implementation of the sustainability strategy. Additionally, the study supports previous research stating that strong leadership is essential when incorporating sustainability. More specifically, the study demonstrate that the executive group have a vital role as it can allocate resources to the process and incorporate sustainability in companies’ existing structures, such as corporate strategy, or vision. The study also supports previous research stating that stakeholders have an important role for making companies more sustainable. Lastly, an interesting finding of the study was that it is important for companies not to have a culture that is too value-laden, as it could hinder the application of a business perspective on the sustainability incorporation process.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2015
Number of pages90