Strategic transformation to sustilience: learning from COVID-19


The authors seek to stimulate and strengthen learning for both institutional and corporate leadership to transform society toward sustainability and resilience. The authors use sustainability in the broader socioecological sense, rather than meaning merely financial survival. Based upon experiences by various parties in dealing with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) or (C-19) during 2020 and into 2021, we are all driven to ask, “Which lessons shall we learn?”


Based upon a brief review of environmental and management literature, the authors compare experiences with C-19 and those of socio-ecological sustainability to-date and distill both sources for optimism as well as pessimism in the face of technical and socio-political challenges.


Historical experiences are not particularly encouraging, but there are many opportunities for great improvements if institutional and corporate leaders choose to learn from both C-19 experiences and earlier efforts toward sustainability.

Practical implications

Procrastination by major industrialized economies in not taking major positive actions to control and reduce carbon pollution and other environmental damage is leading to human crises–hunger and thirst followed by migration, conflicts and healthcare system collapses. Organizational executives need to develop flexibility and embrace precautionary principles regarding many stakeholders if humanity is going to have a good chance of flourishing in the future.


The authors adapt the “wedding cake” model of Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) and their relationships to the concept of “dynamic materiality” in both an organizational as well as a macro perspective. In addition, the authors introduce the word sustilience to describe an organization’s combined ability to achieve “sustainability” through relatively stable conditions as well as the “resilience” to rebound after major external shocks.