Sears And Limits On Sustainability

This week came news that Sears is eliminating a retiree health care subsidy. The cut will save the company an estimated $6 million per year. But the loss to nearly 14,000 retirees makes life on a limited income even more difficult.

We all know Sears is in a death spiral. It has reported losses for the past nine consecutive quarters. It has suffered revenues declines for the past thirty consecutive quarters. It would not surprise anyone if Sears is gone in the next year or too, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs. It is truly sad. In some ways it is like watching the last days of a beloved, respected elder.

The demise of Sears–once the Amazon of its day–has been long in the making, and will serve as a business school case study for years to come. Perhaps it is facile to say, but no business thrives forever, and all are destined to decline and demise. It is the fate of changes in technology, the economy, consumer tastes, and management.

Sustainability is about the long-term. But, as has often been said, in the long-term we are all dead. Business students will study how Sears went wrong and how it could have reversed its fortunes. But perhaps there is a limit to what even good management and good decision making can do. In the end, there is a life-cycle that even sustainability cannot overcome. That does not mean companies should chuck it all and live for the short-term. It only means we need to respect the limitations all business face.

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