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Sustainability -- Economic aspects, Globalization -- Analysis, Environmental economics -- Research


Globalization is becoming an increasingly controversial topic as shown by recent protests around the world. To date, however, U.S. business scholars have seldom questioned the basic assumptions of globalization, opting instead to describe the phenomena and focus on best practices. The purpose of this literature review is to broaden the boundaries of the debate on globalization and increase our understanding of its impact beyond the economic sphere into the realm of environmental sustainability. The Natural Step framework is used to organize an analysis of the existing empirical research. It describes four basic system conditions required for sustainability: 1) substances from the earth’s crust must not systematically increase in the ecosphere; 2) substances produced by society must not systematically increase in the ecosphere; 3) the physical basis for productivity and diversity of nature must not be systematically diminished; and 4) for the three previous conditions to be met, there must be fair and efficient use of resources with respect to meeting human needs. This objective review of the literature, which appears to be the first of its kind, revealed contradictory findings in some areas as well as evidence that globalization is an uneven process, which has had both positive and negative effects on the system conditions. The Natural Step framework is a good tool for capturing the benefits and liabilities of globalization from a systemic perspective that includes the major areas in the globalization debate: environmental sustainability, inequality, labor conditions and rights, national sovereignty, and cultural and community impact.


Paper presented at the Academy of Management, National Meeting, 2001. A version of this paper was included in Globalization and the Environment, Sharma and Starik (eds.), 2002.

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