Termite Tales: Organisational Change—A Personal View of Sustainable Development in a University—As Seen from the ‘Tunnels’

  • Jack ChristianEmail author
  • Liz Walley
Part of the World Sustainability Series book series (WSUSE)


This paper tells the story of an ongoing greening process in a HE Institution from the perspective of an individual on the ‘shop floor’. It adds to the work of Walley and Stubbs (1999, 2000) on organisational greening at the level of the individual in context. Adopting Morgan’s (1993) metaphor of how termite mounds—organizations—are shaped, the 2000 paper investigated the role of the environmental champions in large organisations exploring the notion of strategic termites as inspiration for would-be environmental change agents. Whilst Walley and Stubbs (2000) focused on formally appointed champions, this paper records the journey of an informal agent, taking place against a backdrop of organisational change in a large university. Although much of this change had little to do with greening it presented opportunities for an industrious termite to tint the mound a little greener. The journey notes successes and failures from the ‘termite’s’ perspective and how his thinking gradually shifted from purely opportunistic to something more strategic. The strategic termite metaphor aids the interpretation of this journey. It is hoped this paper will inspire would-be sustainability change agents. Like termites we all move along seemingly predetermined pathways but if we remain sensitive to our surroundings, opportunities to reshape the future will present themselves.


Metaphor Greening Sensemaking Inspiration Change agent 


  1. Alvesson M (1993) Cultural perspectives on organizations. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  2. Boje DM, Summers DJ (1994) Review of ‘Imaginazation: the art of creative management’. Adm Sci Q 39(4):688–690CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bourgeois VW, Pinder CC (1983) Contrasting philosophical perspectives in administrative science: a reply to Morgan. Adm Sci Q 28:608–613CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brooks I (2009) Organisational behaviour individuals, groups and organisation. Prentice Hall, HarlowGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown RH (1976) Social theory as metaphor. Theory Soc 3:169–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burrell G, Morgan G (1979) Sociological paradigms and organizational analysis. Heinemann, LondonGoogle Scholar
  7. Clegg SR, Courpassen D, Phillips N (2006) Power and organisations. Sage Publications, LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. Cunliffe AL (2008) Organization theory. Sage Publications, LondonGoogle Scholar
  9. Exter N, Grayson D, Maher R (2013) Facilitating organizational change for embedding sustainability into academia: a case study. J Manag Dev 32(3):319–332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Giddens A (1984) The constitution of society: outline of the theory of structuration. Polity Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  11. Godemann, J., Herzig, C., Moon, J., and Powell, A., (2011), Integrating sustainability into business schools – analysis of 100 UN PRME Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) reports, Nottingham University Business School, ICCSE Research Paper SeriesGoogle Scholar
  12. Holley KA (2009) Interdisciplinary strategies as transformative change in higher education. Innov High Educ 34:331–344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kezar A (2013) Understanding sensemaking/sensegiving in transformational change processes from the bottom up. High Educ 65:761–780CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lakoff G, Johnsson M (1980) Metaphors we live by. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  15. Lyotard J-F (1984) The postmodern condition a report on knowledge. University of Minnesota Press, MinneapolisGoogle Scholar
  16. McCourt W (1997) Discussion note: using metaphors to understand and to change organizations: a critique of Gareth Morgan’s approach. Organ Stud 18(3):511–522CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Morgan G (1980) Paradigms, metaphors and puzzle solving in organization theory. Adm Sci Q 25:605–622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Morgan G (1986) Images of organization. Sage, LondonGoogle Scholar
  19. Morgan G (1993) Imaginization: the art of creative management. Sage, LondonGoogle Scholar
  20. Post J, Altman B (1994) Managing the environmental change process: barriers and opportunities. J Organ Change Manag 7(4):64–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rasanen K, Merilainen S, Lovio R (1994) Pioneering descriptions of corporate greening: notes and doubts on the emerging discussion. Bus Strategy Environ 3(4):9–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ricoeur P (1978) Metaphor and the main problem of hermeneutics. In: Regan CE, Stewart D (eds) The philosophy of Paul Ricoeur. Beacon Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  23. Tinker T (1986) Metaphor or reification: are radical humanists really libertarian anarchists? J Manag Stud 23(4):363–384CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Walley EE, Stubbs M (1999) ‘Greenjacking’—a tactic for the toolbag of environmental champions? Reflections on an SME success story. Eco-Manag Auditing 6(1):26–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Walley EE, Stubbs M (2000) Termites and champions case comparisons by metaphor. Green Manag Int 29:41–54Google Scholar
  26. Wheatley MJ (1996) The unplanned organization: learning from nature’s emergent creativity. Noetic Sci Rev 37. Accessed 13 Jan 2014

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Accounting, Finance and EconomicsManchester Metropolitan University Business SchoolManchesterUK
  2. 2.Department of ManagementManchester Metropolitan University Business SchoolManchesterUK

Personalised recommendations