No time like the present: how a present time perspective can foster sustainable development
Sustainable development research assumes that organizations must make intertemporal trade-offs between benefits now versus benefits later. However, under extreme resource constraints, organizations are unable to sacrifice resources now for benefits later without risking their survival. In these conditions, prior theory would suggest that organizations would be present focused, making sustainable development elusive. Through an ethnographic study, we investigated how tea producer organizations in eight communities in East Africa confronting severe resource constraints acted for sustainable development. We discovered that a ‘present’ time perspective is richer than has been described previously. Prior time research describes the present as a ‘moment’ in time, which allows managers to juxtapose the present against the future to make the intertemporal trade-offs for sustainable development. However, our tea producers did not see the future as a trade off with the present. We discovered that they see duration in the present – what we call a ‘long present’. Because the present is long, they see connections among processes such as resource flows, which inspired incremental actions that continuously ease extreme resource shortages. We, therefore, offer an alternative to the trade-off thinking that currently dominates sustainable development discourse.