What is meant by sustainability in corporate parlance?

When it first came about, it mostly meant corporate responsibility involving reduction of environmental impact. However, it has now come to encompass a wide variety of strategies which aim towards building long term shareholder, consumer, societal and employee value. True corporate sustainability now encompasses all operations of a business and required a company’s full engagement and commitment. It has become a long term objective which supports the growth of a business.

So what does sustainability generally involve?

The usual connotation is that of environmental responsibility, which involves protecting and conserving natural resources, for example, by using clean fuels and recycling waste.  Other aspects which are part of the sustainability spectrum today are the social and human impact of businesses. The social impact refers to the outreach of the business in enhancing and alleviating the local community; for example, supporting educational and health care initiatives in the local community. This builds goodwill and trust amongst local community members. The human aspect of sustainability involves looking after the welfare of employees: ensuring that all employees have equal opportunities, are treated with dignity and are provided with a safe and secure work environment, among other things.

Then, of course, there is the impact of the business on itself. In the long term, all the above initiatives are bound to increase the profitability of the company through significant cost savings due to reduced energy consumption and reduced waste disposal costs, enhanced brand image in the eyes of customers, tax incentives by the government for adopting sustainable programs, and increased employee satisfaction and loyalty. In addition, increasingly, businesses that fail to comply with environmental and regulatory laws are being penalized and their access to new markets which prioritize sustainability may be severely affected.

For a business to make the switch to sustainability, it needs to first conduct a sustainability audit and identify aspects in which changes can be made. Secondly, measurable and time bound goals need to be set. Since the most visible and impactful change is the environmental one, it is imperative for the business to make the switch to cleaner and greener energy and be conscious about generating less waste and ensuring proper waste disposal. Then, its products and packaging need to use sustainable materials. Employees need to be educated in the importance of sustainability and their own individual carbon footprints and be encouraged to participate in local environmental initiatives. Businesses can also collaborate with other enterprises to expand sustainability programs and initiatives.

Here are some top companies who made sustainability their priority:

  1. Accenture: Responsible for reducing individual employee carbon emissions by 52%.
  2. Apple: Preferred usage of aluminum as it generates less emissions. Apple also partnered with other companies with shared values.
  3. Estee Lauder: All their waste is either recycled or incinerated to produce energy. Impacts the welfare of millions of individuals through initiatives in health, environment and education.
  4. Google: 90% of waste diverted from landfills. %0% less energy usage in data centers.
  5. Ikea: Manufacturing using sustainable materials. 91% of waste recycled or incinerated into energy.
  6. Intel: 75% of waste recycled. Zero hazardous waste in landfills.

Today, realizing that the businesses of the future cannot exist without sustainability and accountability, companies are hiring CSOs or Chief Sustainability Officers to promote initiatives of sustainability and to ensure that companies make the greatest possible switchover to such practices.

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