Sustainability & Business

What Does Sustainability Mean in Business?

The concept of sustainability as it’s generally understood – meeting our needs today without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs – has been around since the late 1980s. Many businesses have adopted its principles as they are able based on budget, available technology and consumer demand.

However, over the years, “green green” has become less of an option and more of a necessity.

The onset of the recent recession forced companies to do more with less, including slashing budgets while trying to maintain service levels. Businesses that depend on nonrenewable resources – and, for now, that’s the majority of companies – can expect to see costs rise as those resources become increasingly scarce. That, in turn, will likely pinch profits.

In the face of such economic realities, there is no time like the present for businesses to focus attention on sustainability efforts. If they fail to do so, their competition may get the upper hand. They also might face the prospect of governmental regulatory agencies imposing more inspections, fees and penalties for old “brown economy” practices.

Matthew Tueth, a leading thinker in sustainable business, has identified hallmarks of companies that have attained full-blown sustainable business status. For many businesses, those hallmarks could serve as a comprehensive set of goals:

Triple Bottom Line: Companies gauge their success based not merely on economic gain but also on their achievements in preserving the environment and bettering humanity, particularly their employees and the communities they call home. Each of those components is weighted equally when determining a company’s worth.

Biomimicry: The company looks to nature for models and lessons when designing products and developing processes.

Products of Service or Consumption: The company specializes in products that are either: (a) made of durable materials and borrowed and used by consumers who then return them to be reprocessed and made new; or (b) made of biodegradable materials that return to nature in their entirety once they have exhausted their usefulness.

Solar, Wind, Geothermal and Ocean Energy: The company depends solely on these types of renewable energy to meet all of its energy needs.

Local-based Organizations and Economies: The company is locally owned and operated, participating in a regional network of partnerships with other businesses and stakeholders.

Continuous Improvement: Regardless of what heights of sustainability a company reaches, it continues to be committed to constant improvement in pursuit of a more effective triple bottom line.

Business leaders don’t have to commit their company to any grand, sweeping transformations it isn’t ready for or doesn’t have the resources to achieve. If they plan to remain competitive, however, it is likely imperative that they at least take baby steps in the direction of sustainability.

With the world’s population increasing and fossil fuels and other natural resources dwindling, going green may soon make the difference between business success and failure.

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