Sustainability & the work ethic

The question of how the looming climate crisis will change the spiritual relationship that people and groups have with their work is perhaps one of the most important issues that we face in management and organisational studies. Towards the end of The Protestant Ethic & the Spirit of Capitalism Weber writes:

‘The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out in monastic cells into everyday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt’.

As we approach ‘peak’ in relation to the natural resources available to us on this planet, many businesses have (at various speeds) changed the way they do business or developed new approaches to how they do their work. Weber’s prediction that the Protestant Work Ethic, the set of beliefs about salvation which drove the behaviours necessary for industrial forms of capitalism to emerge, is particularly salient at a time when there are very serious concerns about global resource depletion, over-population and climate change. Much of my current research is concerned with how businesses and individuals are creating and experiencing a ‘sustainability-ethic’ in their activities.


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