HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Alan L. Gleitsman Professor of Social Innovation, HKS; Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Business Administration, HBS


Though workers play a critical role in many contemporary work organizations, they are often overlooked in conversations about sustainable business. In this chapter, we argue that the rights and well-being of workers constitute a core aspect of sustainability along with the preservation of the environment. We identify psychological and structural empowerment as two key dimensions of human sustainability and review scholarship on the pursuit of objectives beyond profit in companies, highlighting the need to integrate these bodies of research. Drawing on empirical findings emerging from research on hybrid organizing, we argue that organizational democracy has the potential to empower workers and promote their well-being, while also enabling the simultaneous pursuit of social, environmental, and financial objectives. We propose a research agenda to investigate how democratic organizing and sustainability are intertwined, calling for interdisciplinary research that will examine both potential synergies and conflicts between organizational democracy and sustainability, with implications for worker well-being and inequality. Finally, we highlight the need for further research on the role of the institutional environment, and especially accountability systems, in enabling the joint pursuit of human and environmental sustainability in organizations.


Yen, Julie, Julie Battilana, and Emilie Aguirre. "Sustainability for people and the planet: placing workers at the center of sustainability research." Handbook on the Business of Sustainability: The Organization, Implementation, and Practice of Sustainable Growth. Ed. Gerard George, Martine Haas, Havovi Joshi, Anita McGahan, and Paul Tracey. Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 2022, 189-214.