Sustainability, in a wide sense of the word, is a prerequisite for business legitimacy in today’s society, not least in retail. To many, sustainability becomes an issue that must somehow be managed. Commonly, management of sustainability is understood in more or less the same fashion as managing business in general. For example, sustainability is assumed to be controlled in the same manner as any other business activity. Control is a concept traditionally referable to a specific internal context, usually assuming a rational, instrumental and closed organization where goals and objectives are formulated at top level, even if the mechanisms of control may vary considerably.
In this paper, we question the prevailing ideas of management control when it comes to sustainability. Based on how sustainability issues are actually managed within retail, we point to inadequacies of understanding sustainability as an issue that can be managed in a traditional way. The paper builds on interviews made within a large Swedish retail firm with relatively developed strategies and understandings of sustainability and the need for responsible business conduct, both in practice and communication.
Thus, the purpose of the paper is to show how control in terms of sustainability escapes traditional conceptions of management control. This, we argue, is not just an issue of academic interest. In a wider sense, we identify why the issue of sustainability requires other means and competencies to be successfully managed compared to traditional business issues. Basically, we formulate our contentions against the concept of accountability, the contents and consequences of which must be understood and handled by companies in order to provide a credible sustainability profile.
2012. 1-28 p.