Sustainability in the Business Mainstream? Harvard Business Review’s List of Breakthrough Ideas as a Loose Metric.
Trudy Heller, Ph.D.

Executive Education for the Environment

P.O. Box 84

Swarthmore, PA 19081 USA


1-800 813 8219

In one week in January 2007, greening and corporate social responsibility were featured in cover stories of three mainstream business publications, Business Week, The Economist, and Business 2.0. The latter cover screams, “GO GREEN. GET RICH. : saving the planet has suddenly become good business”. Do these headlines indicate that sustainability has become mainstream business? Is “sustainable” business becoming just business, the way that “e-business” has become simply the way that industry works?

This presentation will investigate the question of just how mainstream sustainable business has become by surveying the past seven years of the Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) List of Breakthrough Ideas. GIN is dedicated to driving sustainability thinking into the business mainstream. How successful have we been? What aspects of sustainable business are evident in the ideas considered to be breakthrough by the establishment publication, HBR?

Breakthrough ideas are defined by their capacity to “open awareness for inquiry and discovery,” as “the palette of concerns that will likely color management thinking in years ahead,” and as concepts that will “launch provocative conversations in offices and boardrooms”.  The List, began in 2001 as an effort to sort passing fads from leading edges of significant new thought waves. Earlier lists were shorter, and were composed by the editorial staff of HBR. In more recent years, the lists have matured to be a regular feature.  Now twenty different authors espouse twenty different ideas.

This thought experiment will not search the lists for the language of sustainability and its jargon, but rather the embedding of concepts, assumptions and world views that, like systems thinking, are consistent with a transformed, sustainable society.  The presentation will seek to illuminate questions of how sustainability and mainstream business are separate worlds and how they are spheres of mutual influence.


All Submissions
8:00 AM-8:00 PM, Friday, June 15, 2007, Oral

The Ontario, Canada 2007 Meeting