Understanding positive contributions to sustainability. A systematic review

Publikation: Beitrag in FachzeitschriftÜbersichtsartikel (Review)BeigetragenBegutachtung



Current approaches for measuring and assessing contributions of companies and their products to sustainability largely focus on reducing negative impacts. However, becoming “less bad” still means having adverse impacts on the environment. Various authors have therefore called for investigating how positive contributions can be made to further sustainable development. This systematic literature review explores how positive contributions to sustainability have been discussed in the environmental management literature dealing with sustainability performance measurement and assessment. Our review of 328 publications reveals an understanding of positive contributions to sustainability that is a mostly implicit or vague use. Inductive analysis, however, reveals three distinct understandings – an operationalization, a stakeholder and a transformation perspective – each of which is embedded in a different theoretical frame, namely decision, stakeholder and transition theory. These perspectives have so far been discussed separately in the literature. By drawing on theoretical foundations of performance measurement, we propose an integrated understanding of positive contributions to sustainability: A positive sustainability contribution has the goal of bringing about a sustainability transformation, considers the environmental, economic and social context through stakeholder participation, and is operationalized to facilitate decision-making and the implementation of effective sustainability measures. A clear definition is of key importance for both research and practice to both reduce negative and increase positive contributions to sustainable development.


FachzeitschriftJournal of environmental management
PublikationsstatusVeröffentlicht - Okt. 2022

Externe IDs

Scopus 85135707630
Mendeley 46f325ca-c81f-37d7-b066-d20c2cf39cf0
unpaywall 10.1016/j.jenvman.2022.115802



  • Assessment, Corporate sustainability, Measurement, Performance, Sustainability accounting, Sustainability management