Sustainability - Henley Business School Finland

Extending the Better Balance Model to help solve the problem of sustainability

The massive environmental, social and economic challenges facing the world are well documented and some believe that climate change, population growth and increased consumption will challenge the sustainability of human life on this planet.

In this recently published discussion paper, based on work at the John Madejski Centre for Reputation, Professor Kevin Money, Director of the Centre, along with Stephen Pain, VP Sustainable Business and Communications, and Professor Carola Hillenbrand, suggest that there needs to be an in-depth exploration of the root cause of the sustainability problem: human behaviour.

A psychological approach to sustainability

Much of the current debate focuses on reducing negative symptoms of human behaviour rather than understanding and changing the root causes of it, but we suggest that the world is out of balance because the motivations and, therefore, the behaviours of people are out of balance.

By understanding why and how we are motivated to behave as we do, we can find solutions that can restore balance within ourselves, in our relationships with each other and with the wider world. Put simply, we must achieve a better balance in business and in society more generally.

By drawing on psychological theory, we propose that sustainable behaviours could be encouraged by redressing the following imbalances that can lead to dysfunctional and unsustainable behaviour:

  • Imbalances between human drives/motivations
  • Imbalances between learning from positive and negative outcomes
  • Imbalances between peopleโ€™s public and private identities

We conclude the paper by presenting a model of sustainability that can redress imbalances and, thus, encourage sustainable behaviours.

Balancing human drives/motivations

We argue that, as human beings, we are driven to:

  • Acquire โ€“ gain material goods and status
  • Bond โ€“ be a part of a group that cares for us and gives us identity
  • Comprehend โ€“ understand the world around us and have a purpose
  • Defend โ€“ protect things important to us

In line with recent advances in motivation theory, we argue that each of these drives competes with the others for dominance, rather than, in the case of Maslowโ€™s hierarchy, one building upon the achievement of the other.

Our thesis is that these drives/motivations function not only at the level of the individual, but also at the level of societies, cultures and organisations. For example, we argue that the current lack of environmental and social sustainability of our businesses and societies are a direct result of an imbalance that favours the drive to acquire.

Balancing positive and negative outcomes

Renowned psychologist Professor Martin Seligman noted that the prevention of a negative was not the same as the creation of a positive, while the bulk of work in psychology had focused on preventing the negative rather than creating the positive.

In a similar way, we contend that much of the work in the space of sustainability has focused on preventing negative behaviour rather than on encouraging positive behaviour. This work challenges individuals and organisations to focus on what people could do and the benefits that they can receive rather than what they should not do and what they need to sacrifice.

Balancing the internal and external

The alignment โ€“ or lack of it โ€“ between our internal (private) and external (public) identities has often been associated with functional behaviours.

So over-consumption may be a function of an imbalance, where the purchase of material goods and status compensates for misalignments at deeper personal levels.

We suggest that organisations can help to create a culture of open sharing between individuals regarding sustainable behaviour. Rather than framing sustainability as a โ€œshouldโ€ or โ€œidealโ€ state, organisations could allow stakeholders to share their experiences of sustainability, thereby connecting it to a deep sense of self.

A key mechanism for change within this model is achieving consistency between an individualโ€™s personal sense of self, as well as the expectations of family and friends (private life) and society and working life (public life).

Towards a psychology-based model of business sustainability

From these reflections, we argue that the purpose of business should be to grow while balancing the expression of drives within our societies. Ultimately, sustainability can only be achieved by restoring and maintaining a healthy balance among the various drives in our societies.

We have devised a model that redefines the purpose of business using psychological principles and that embraces a wider sense of humanity. It invites organisations to consider their role in society in terms of five key dimensions:

Balancing Drives - Henley Business School Finland

Organisations could also link this thinking to the balancing of internal and external worlds through the use of a process of reflecting on gaps between their values, behaviours and stakeholder expectations. They could then share their stories.

Better Balance Process - Henley Business School Finland

We believe that applying this model can help to move business into what might be called an Age of Good, where we learn to grow sustainably in a world where resources are increasingly scarce and societal needs are ever more demanding.

Please fill in the fields below to download the full discussion paper.
As well as contacting you about your paper request, weโ€™d like to tell you about other events and opportunities to find out more about our courses and studying at Henley. Please let us know below if you are happy for us to do so:(Required)

GDPR policy

The personal information you supply on this form will be used to help us respond to your request, for quality assurance and for data analytics purposes. Your personal data will not be sold to any organisation, and will not be shared with any organisations outside the university apart from those that help us to provide this service or unless required by law. The information that has been provided in this form will be treated in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation (2016) and all applicable data protection laws. Please refer to our privacy policy for more information. If, at some stage, you wish to be removed from our database, please advise us by emailing to info@henley.fi.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

ยฉ Money, Pain and Hillenbrand, March 2016

Sabine Doms, Marketing Manager - Henley Business School Finland

Sabine Doms

Sabine is passionate about helping people to achieve their full potential and perform at their best. She has over 10 years experience in marketing and communications and is leading the marketing of Henley Business School in Finland since 2016.

Related content

Paula Kilpinen, Director, Custom solutions - Henley Business School Finland

Paula Kilpinen appointed as Director, Custom solutions

  • 15 Nov 2022
Paula Kilpinen has been appointed as Director, Custom solutions at Henley Business School Finland as of 14 November 2022. In this role she will lead the custom solutions business area, comprising of high-impact customised solutions for sustainable growth.

New campus in Helsinki

  • 10 Oct 2022
At the start of August 2022, we moved into our own new customised campus in the heart of Helsinki, with both administration and educational facilities finally under the same roof. Now that the world is moving back to appreciating face-to-face interactions with each other, the new Henley campus is ready to support your learning success.

#ShowYourStripes: Be part of global climate change movement

  • 21 Jun 2022
Thousands of people around the world will again unite against climate change by sharing a striking climate change visualisation on Tuesday 21 June. The climate stripes infographic, created by Professor Ed Hawkins at the University of Reading, display rising annual temperatures in one clear image.