The growing instability of our planet’s ecological system poses an existential threat to humanity, and corporations play an immense role in shaping the earth system.

This study thus examines the process of cross-organizational sensemaking between corporate actors and environmental scientists collaborating to meet sustainability grand challenges at the global scale.

We analyze an ambitious joint effort by the world’s premier business association for sustainability – The World Business Council for Sustainable Development – and a globally prominent environmental research network to develop Action2020, a worldwide platform for advancing environmental business policy and practice. We consider how this collaboration was enabled and challenged via the use of a science-based boundary object – The Planetary Boundaries Framework – to facilitate sensemaking for sustainability. Collaborations of this type at this scale may be increasingly important for promoting sustainable environmental futures but are extremely rare and usually confidential.

This is the first investigations of macro-scale cross-organizational sensemaking to address grand challenges of sustainability, and to relate the difficulties and affordances associated with using a science-based boundary object to do so. We thus provide a unique window into the inner workings of important but typically tightly controlled interactions.


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