What Can We Learn from Pope Francis About Change Management for Environmental Sustainability? A Case Study on Success Factors for Leading Change in Change-Resistant Institutional Environments

  • Wendy Nelson
  • Johannes M. LuetzEmail author


Leading and sustaining change efforts is widely recognised as an important success factor for achieving progress on matters pertaining to environmental sustainability. There are several reasons for this. For example, transitioning from a fossil fuel based global economy to one that is based on renewable energy is a challenge that is widely understood to remain difficult to achieve for humanity in the absence of influential and robust change management, sustained over time and space. Hence, there is a need for strategic leadership that can drive and sustain far-reaching societal behaviour change. While political duty bearers and senior corporate executives are typically identified as those stakeholders who are best positioned to lead change efforts towards increased environmental sustainability, there is a paucity of case studies that explore the role of ‘spiritual leaders’ in this important area, which sits at the intersection of business and environmental management, and social science investigation. This case study on Pope Francis addresses this knowledge gap. As the current head of the Roman Catholic Church, a global organisation which has been identified as being among some of the most influential and at the same time change-resistant organisations in the world, Pope Francis exemplifies the pivotal role, which spiritual leadership can play in progressing the global environmental sustainability agenda. By conducting a broad review of the literature, including popular, ecclesiological, managerial, and peer-reviewed scientific publications, this case study contributes to this important discourse. Noting important connections between sustainability and the humanities, the study identifies the power of personal example as a key success factor for influencing change-resistant environments.


Change management Change resistance Leading change Environmental sustainability Encyclical Laudato si’ Pope francis Climate change Roman catholic church 



The authors wish to thank Kirsty Andersen for her copy-editorial support, and Clifford F. Fowler for constructive comments. Finally, the authors wish to thank Pope Francis for leading the changes which inspired his encyclical Laudato Si’, and ultimately, this paper.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CHC Higher EducationCarindaleAustralia
  2. 2.University of New South Wales (UNSW)SydneyAustralia

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