Evolving theories of sustainability and firms: History, future directions and implications for renewable energy research

Rui-Dong Chang, Jian Zuo*, Zhen Yu Zhao, George Zillante, Xiao Long Gan, Veronica Soebarto

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

144 Citations (Scopus)


Sustainability has become a critical perspective in managing firms via a holistic approach by considering economic, environmental and social dimensions of firms. With the rising significance of sustainable development, the theories of sustainability in firms have evolved during the past six decades. This article offers a critical review of the evolving theories linking sustainability to firms, and discusses their implications for future renewable energy research. The relationships among different theories are critically analysed, and the directions for future research are discussed. The paper shows that, the main theories linking sustainability to firms, in a chronological order, are: 1) Corporate Social Responsibility, 2) Stakeholder Theory, 3) Corporate Sustainability, and 4) Green Economics. Currently various innovative approaches and new theories emerged, such as Co-evolution Theory and Multi-level Perspective, reflecting three directions of theory development, namely 1) shifting from “what” to “how”, 2) growing use of interdisciplinary approach, and 3) towards broader systems. Renewable energy studies associated with firms and future research opportunities in this area are also critically analysed. The comprehensive review offered in this paper provides a useful reference for policy makers, corporate managers and researchers interested in corporate sustainability and renewable energy related studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-56
Number of pages9
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
Early online date12 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - May 2017
Externally publishedYes


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