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Planetary Boundaries: Ecological Foundations for Corporate Sustainability


Gail Whiteman, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, Burg, Oudlaan 50, Rotterdam 3062PA, The Netherlands (


Management studies on corporate sustainability practices have grown considerably. The field now has significant knowledge of sustainability issues that are firm and industry focused. However, complex ecological problems are increasing, not decreasing. In this paper, we argue that it is time for corporate sustainability scholars to reconsider the ecological and systemic foundations for sustainability, and to integrate our work more closely with the natural sciences. To address this, our paper introduces a new development in the natural sciences – the delineation of nine ‘Planetary Boundaries’ which govern life as we know it. We call for more systemic research that measures the impact of companies on boundary processes that are at, or possibly beyond, three threshold points – climate change, the global nitrogen cycle, and rate of biodiversity loss – and closing in on others. We also discuss practical implications of the Planetary Boundaries framework for corporate sustainability, including governance and institutional challenges.