Much of the literature on sustainability has tried to define the “virtuous behaviour” of “agents” (man and his social and economic organizations) so that it respects the “sustainability constraint.” This paper provides a “mirror-image” approach, based on the idea that it is above all necessary to understand why men and organizations tend to develop, at times unconsciously and dishonestly, damaging behaviour that turns into non-sustainability. In other words, to orient man toward sustainable behaviour it is indispensable to understand the “reasons” for the behaviour that produces non-sustainable effects. Regarding sustainability problems, we shall introduce the hypothesis that non-sustainable behaviour is not irrational in an absolute sense but derives from the action of three connected “behavioural archetypes” that accurately describe the “natural” behaviour of individuals in pursuing their aims: behaving in a way that will provide evident short-term advantages, both individual and local, while ignoring the disadvantages and harm such behaviour produces in the long run, at the collective and global level. To solve the problem, we shall try to identify the “levers” that weaken the archetypes and reverse their effects, thereby requiring sacrifices which are unacceptable to some. The paper presents four emblematic cases of non-sustainable behaviour and demonstrates that sustainability must become a fundamental strategic driver.
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