Choosing social and environmental sustainability: how executives resolve the problems of competing commitments in decision-making

  • Date: Wednesday 7 November 2018
  • Speaker: Catherine Tilley
  • Time: 14:00 - 15:00
  • Location: Room 1.04, Charles Thackrah Building
  • Who can attend: Staff, students, alumni and external guests


Businesses are under pressure to become more socially and environmentally sustainable, but this creates problems in decision-making as executives strive to reconcile the tensions between different objectives and different stakeholders.   These tensions have been analysed conceptually at a macro level and a micro level, but there is little empirical data to show the connection between these perspectives or how executives resolve the competing demands they face in decision-making.

I propose a series of six different ways for decision-makers to manage these competing demands, and then analyse the way this repertoire is used in 45 decisions made by senior executives.   I find that their choices are shaped not only by the characteristics of the problem, but also by the broader organisational logic that the company applies to the problem of sustainability for their business.

This enables us to explore the relationship between macro, meso and micro levels of the organisation in decision-making.  It also has important implications for practice:  companies need to create a clear framing of the relationship between business and the environment in order to act sustainably.

About the speaker

Catherine is a Doctoral Student at the Institute of Manufacturing at  Cambridge University, where she is examining the way in which executives include considerations of social and environmental impact in business decision-making.    She is supervised by Professor Steve Evans.

Before starting her PhD, Catherine had a long career in consulting and education including work as Director of Education at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, and 14 years at McKinsey & Company.  She has an MA from Cambridge and an MBA from Manchester Business School.