The research concept of the department of Sustainable Management can be described as a multi-stage approach, consisting of several stages which are built upon each other and are iteratively and constantly developed further. The conducted research addresses the behaviour of economic systems, i. e. companies, municipalities, private households, etc. In this context, the research aims at an economic approach to social systems, that can be generalised in space and time and requires an expanded concept of economic rationality. The research heuristic is the contradiction between efficiency-oriented and sustainability-oriented economic rationality.
- In the first stage of the research concept a sustainable resource management was theoretically established. The aim of this stage was to prove that it is rational for economic systems to adopt sustainable behaviour. Throughout the further elaboration of the theory, the concept of Salutogenesis is used as a guiding principle. (Müller-Christ, G. (2001): Nachhaltiges Ressourcenmanagement. Metropolis-Verlag Marburg)
- The second stage of the research concept focused on the question of how the rationality of sustainability relates to the existing concept of success in management theory. In several research projects it has been pointed out that sustainability-oriented economic activity and efficiency-oriented economic activity are contradictory to each other. While politics and economy harmonise this contradiction on an abstract level through overarching formulas (compensation or balance of economy, ecology and social affairs), it is theoretically plausible that these contradictions re-emerge in the decision-making context and lead to dilemmatic decisions. Management theory is not well prepared for dealing with such contradictions. (Müller-Christ, G./Arndt, L./Ehnert, I. (Hrsg.): Nachhaltigkeit und Widersprüche. Lit Verlag Hamburg 2007))
- In the third stage, the new research questions therefore focused on the need to be able to connect the rationality of sustainability to conventional decision-making processes of economic actors. It became evident that the core problem of dilemmatic decision-making processes is the legitimisation of trade-offs: How do actors process trade-offs in decisions on sustainable consumption? How do companies handle trade-offs in decisions in favour of active corporate social responsibility or environmental protection?
This research heuristic also forms the underlying rationale for the conceptualisation of systematic resource management approaches in selected sectors, e.g. the textile industry. In this stage, new instruments of sustainable resource management have been developed, such as the strategic sustainability vector, the economic-ecological corporate principles, the management of resource regimes and resource-oriented sustainability monitoring. The results of the last 10 years were summarised and published in: Müller-Christ, G. (2010): Nachhaltiges Management. Einführung in die Ressourcenorientierung und widersprüchliche Managementrationalitäten. Baden-Baden. Nomos Shop
- In the fourth stage, the research concept will be further extended to the following question: What competences are needed for a more sustainable economic behaviour of individuals, companies and societies?
The approach of key competences for Sustainable Development, as used in the framework of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, will be adopted. In particular, the following competences are operationalised in a theoretically substantial and empirically validated way for the conceptualisation of Sustainable Leadership:
- Competence of managing contradictions
- Competence to cope with trade-offs
- Competence to take now-for-then decisions
- Competence to decelerate processes
- Competence to use resources responsibly
- Competence to take moral decisions