Oliver Balch tackles key topics in academic thinking and research on sustainability

If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s the illusionary nature of permanence. Jobs for life, lifetime guarantees, five-year plans: forget it. Tomorrow will not be like today. Business managers, it’s a topsy-turvy world out there. Best believe it, expect it, prepare for it.

Step forward resilience theorists. “Not a month goes by that we don’t see some kind of disturbance to the normal flow of life somewhere,” writes Judith Rodin, a leading light of the movement. Behind her list of immediate surprises (think cyber-attacks, Zika, Trump) lie three unsettling mega-trends: rapid urbanisation, climate change, and globalisation. No doubt others could be added, but the point remains the same: the world feels out of kilter.

First proposed in the 1970s (Holling, 1973), resilience theory has enjoyed a renaissance over recent years. The social science research network boasts more than 200 academic papers on the theme over the last year alone – and that’s just in the fields of economics and sustainability.

Looking back on the year just gone, it’s little wonder. Here is a theory that focuses squarely on the “ability of a system to absorb disturbances and still retain its basic function and structure” (Walker and Salt, 2006). In short, exactly what...

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Oliver Balch  CSR 

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