Corporate Sustainability Assessment Method Development Using Systems Approach: Addressing the contribution of manufacturing companies to SDGs
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Launched in 2015, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) became the latest conceptualization of sustainable development (SD). Since then, international institutions and researchers have been eager to find means to (1) stimulate business, including manufacturing, to contribute to SDGs, and (2) measure business contribution to the goals. Sustainability assessment (SA), especially corporate sustainability assessment (CSA), is therefore seen as an aid to the global progress toward sustainable development. Despite the increase in a number of proponents who understand sustainable development as a process rather than an end goal, prevailing CSA methods represent sustainability as a goal or a set of goals to be achieved (also in the light of SDGs). Therefore, many methods use a triple bottom line (TBL) approach to evaluate how sustainable a company is. Such reductionist approach resulted in several challenges and shortcomings of existing methods discussed in the literature, e.g., greenwashing, sub-optimization, a lack of holistic view on sustainability, and a failure to provide means by which improvements can be identified. Hence, the development of a viable, theoretically sound CSA method remains a compelling challenge. This thesis aims at studying CSA as a decision support tool for SD to ensure a holistic, integrated assessment of manufacturing companies. CSA is seen as a means to assist with the identification of problems and potential improvements in order to contribute to the global sustainable development process. The thesis contributes to the challenge of the CSA development by addressing the question: How to develop a new, theoretically sound CSA method that can strengthen the ability of manufacturing companies to contribute to global sustainable development? Design and development research was conducted to answer this question. The results presented in this thesis focus on the development process itself, the design of the new CSA method, and the organizational context for CSA. The development process employing a systems approach is described, documenting the advantages of the approach, and general recommendations regarding the development of a theoretically sound method are given. The new CSA method—general CSA architecture and methodology to apply it—was used to design CSA tools for four case companies. The verification of the design demonstrates that the method is scientifically sound and has the potential to assist with the identification of improvements, hence potentially strengthen the ability of manufacturing companies to contribute to the sustainable development process. The thesis describes how the new method can be used for the root-cause analysis of a negative contribution to SD and identification of opportunities to contribute to SDGs. Moreover, the thesis contributes with a new definition of sustainable manufacturing and a comprehensive list of sustainability criteria for manufacturing companies. Another contribution of this research is the conceptualization of the CSA system and its organizational context, which can influence the effectiveness of the implementation and use of CSA in a company. It is demonstrated how the list of organizational factors can be used for the evaluation of a company’s readiness to implement CSA as well as for the identification of factors that can potentially hinder the effectiveness of CSA.