What is Sustainability in Business?
Updated: Nov 3, 2018
"The term 'sustainability' can be rather contentious. At Strategic Sustainability Consultants, we embrace the concept of sustainability by employing the definition above to guide our consulting work. We apply this idea of sustainability - of being able to continue carrying out a specific action into the future - to economic, social and environmental markers to assess your business' longevity."
This excerpt comes from our "What is Sustainability?" page in our about section on our website.
Increasingly, I hear the term "CSR" thrown around boardrooms and in executive business discussions. CSR, or corporate social responsibility, is the measure of a company's commitment to give back to society. While CSR is an important aspect of business, at Strategic Sustainability Consultants, we prefer to focus on sustainability.
Sustainability encompasses a total business approach. Sustainability looks into the continuation of your business as a profit-earning operation and also as an organisation which contributes positively to the economy, society and environment. This means that your approach to sustainability doesn't just become a throwaway commitment looked at every quarter - or even every year; it becomes an integral part of the way you do business, ensuring the longevity of people and planet and seeing an economic return from doing so.
Over the last 50 years, the world has seen an increasing focus on sustainability within business, especially at the corporate level. During the 1970s, a combination of the rise of the civil rights movement, the growing anti-war, pro-peace sentiment and the rise of consumerism led to the commencement of company's being held accountable for the impact they made on both the social and natural environments in which they operated.
In 2000, the United Nations decided on 8 Development Goals known as the Millennium Development Goals. These included progress towards eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combatting HIV / AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a Global Partnership for Development. These goals were set with a 15 year timeline.
In 2015, these 8 goals were replaced by 17 goals, known as the United Nations' Global Goals for Sustainable Development. These goals also have a 15-year timeline, due to be achieved by 2030. They include the end of poverty, the fight against inequality and a solution to climate change. Embedded in the 17 goals are 169 targets and 232 measurable indicators. In contrast to their predecessors, the Global Goals, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals, have a greater focus on business and its impact globally on economic, social and environmental development.
The Global Goals have become the guiding framework of the 21st Century after all 193 United Nations member states committed to them at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. This marked the first time in United Nations' history that all member states had agreed upon an agenda at once.
Governments at a federal, state and local level are using the goals to guide their decision-making. Company executives such as Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, and Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, have aligned their companies' strategic plans to the goals. The Global Goals present a fantastic opportunity for SMEs to also make their contribution as the goals are both easy to understand and simple to communicate to customers, clients, suppliers and stakeholders alike.
Research is pointing increasingly to customers' desire for businesses to make commitments to sustainability. Those most eager to see these commitments are millennials, those belonging to Generation Y. With this growing push from the consumers, it is only a matter of time before we see sustainability at the core of a majority of businesses all over the world - from large corporations to one-man-(or woman)- bands.