Sustainability is about more than just being ‘green’
It is easy for a business to claim it promotes “sustainable practice”, holds a sustainability policy and “aims to reduce its environmental impact”, yet the actual investment into this aspect of the business is minimal.
A recent “Global Sustainability Leaders Survey” by Verdantix found that over half of the businesses surveyed considered sustainability an issue to be tackled in the future, with funding reflecting this pattern. It is difficult to ensure that “sustainable business” is actually so, especially when working towards such a vague definition. To promote sustainable practice and measure improvements we must firstly understand; what is sustainability?
In 1987 the World Commission on the Environment and Development defined sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Over 20 years have passed since this definition was coined and there is great debate as to how well it can be applied.
Sustainable development is universally accepted to encompass three main aspects: environmental, economic and social sustainability.
Environmental sustainability generates the most publicity as the human impact on the planet can be most readily observed. For a business this involves reducing the impact on the environment through investing in renewable technology, recycling and reducing the production of harmful greenhouse gases. There is pressure on companies to reduce their carbon footprint from both the government and public bodies, making this a heavily targeted issue. However it is often forgotten that for environmental sustainability measures to be successful they must go hand in hand with economic and social development.
Social sustainability encompasses the health and wellbeing of the workforce, their development, diversity and safety and therefore the importance of this for a business cannot be underestimated. The wider community must also be considered as they not only provide the environment in which the company operates but also supply the potential future workforce, without which the longevity of the business is questionable. Community linked initiatives and encouraging workplace health checks often function as part of a business sustainability policy.
Economic sustainability seems intuitive as unless a business is making a profit it cannot continue to operate. However this is about more than just staying out of the red, economic sustainability refers to the long term business strategy, investing in the future now. Both present and future economic parameters need to be identified with the financial impact of changing environmental restrictions considered.
These three pillars underpin sustainability and it is against these which a business should be measured. The benefits to a company are undeniable and although currently investment in sustainability is low I hope that this will change as we begin to break away from past practice and fully embrace the future.
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