Purpose: Theories of organizational learning and sustainability must be able to respond to contemporary social issues and accommodate, in some way, the multiplicity of perspectives that are present in society on these topics. One way of developing multi-perspectival capacities in the scientific understandings is through the building of metatheory. Nowhere is this task more urgently needed than in the study of organisational sustainability. To be sustainable, organisations must not only meet economic, environmental, social and governance requirements but also learn to embody them in their practices and values even during times of turbulence and extraordinary upheaval. The purpose of this paper is to propose a metatheoretical approach to organizational sustainability that can accommodate this plurality.
Design/methodology/approach: Three important metatheoretical lenses - the developmental, internal-external and learning lenses - are presented which have particular relevance to turbulent organizational environments and the transformational imperatives that arise from them. These lenses are then used individually and in combination to discuss several paradoxes related to learning and sustainability issues.
Findings: The growth, learning and sustainability paradoxes present a number of challenges to organisational learning capacities that can be usefully discussed within a metatheoretical context. The set of metatheoretical lenses identified here provide some new avenues for achieving authentic sustainability.
Practical implications: There are two important implications of metatheoretical discussion. The first is the opening up of new directions for middle-range theory. The second is the capacity of metatheory to critically examine extant theories and research paradigms. Several issues are raised in this paper concerning the evaluation of current theories of organisational learning and sustainability.
Originality/value: The metatheoretical approach to learning and sustainability proposed here resolves some fundamental paradoxes facing organisations and it opens up new ways of conceptualising the radical transformations required to meet the sustainability challenges that are being faced in the twenty-first century.
2009. Vol. 16, no 3, 189-207 p.