Knowledge search and learning in sustainability practices


  • Nilanjana Dutt



search; learning; sustainability; problems; environmental; performance



Framing of the research: How do organizations solve problems of environmental sustainability? As organizations search for ways to resolve issues involving the natural environment, they can learn to improve their performance. The rate and extent of their learning and performance improvement are contingent on several factors.

Purpose of the paper: This review studies the links between search activities as they apply to problem solving, and sustainable outcomes. Its goal is to examine the existing research on this topic and better clarify the role that business organizations play in creating and solving problems that affect the natural environment.

Methodology: This is a literature review of management and strategy papers on the topic of search activities in the context of sustainability.

Results: Overall, the review suggests one mode of resolving environmental problems: searching narrowly to resolve routine operational problems while experimenting and adding breadth to search activities over time. The combination of a focused search in any one time period with experimentation via breadth over time periods balances the need for operational efficiency with learning to yield the greatest improvements in environmental performance.

Research limitations: As this is a literature review, it does include any novel empirical research.

Managerial implications: The findings inform managers about when to expand search breadth versus when to search more narrowly. As this review focuses on environmental issues, the results are also valuable for policymakers.

Originality of the paper: This literature review of search activities in the context of sustainability integrates findings across multiple papers to highlight common implications for research, policy, and practice.


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