Today’s responsible businesses are looking beyond just environmental issues.
As corporate interest in sustainability has grown, the definition of what makes a business responsible has also broadened, especially in the last 3–5 years. Based on the recent efforts of our clients, partners, and other leading companies, we’ve identified three major components that are becoming an integral part of many sustainability stories.
There’s no question that the environment was the first issue to put the “green” into green business, but even this category is evolving as the trend goes mainstream. Reducing pollution was the original driver, and it remains an important component. Today, however, many companies that produce little or no pollution to begin with have an interest in doing as much as they can for the environment.
In recent years, this has led to a greater interest in conservation. Many companies, for example, are now finding ways for their facilities to recycle water, provide alternative power generation for heating and cooling facilities, making greater use of natural light, and to utilize many other resource-saving strategies.
The short- and long-term benefits go beyond cost savings. Some big gorillas like Proctor & Gamble and Wal-Mart are more likely to do business with companies that follow sustainable practices. There are also a growing number of Wall Street funds that only invest in companies that meet certain benchmarks for sustainability.
How a business impacts the local economy is a topic that’s generating a lot more scrutiny and awareness. Watchdog organizations are asking questions that go beyond environmental impact. How will a community benefit if you drill, fish, or mine in the area? Will it damage an existing economy, create local jobs, or cause other disruptive changes?
At the same time, economic sustainability can be proactive. Some companies, for example, are funding organizations that need help or donating to causes they feel strongly about. Some respond to disasters by providing funding or free products to aid organizations like the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders. We’re also seeing many new initiatives designed to provide educational opportunities, build infrastructure in developing nations or help consumers save on energy costs.
Social sustainability covers a wide range of issues, from respecting the cultural norms of markets you do business in, to customer satisfaction, affordability, reliability, and even innovation. How your company deals with an aging workforce, diversity, the health and wellness of employees, and providing competitive salaries and benefits are more important then ever before. Your social contribution to the sustainability landscape can include everything from encouraging employees to volunteer with charitable organizations like Habitat for Humanity to internal communication aimed at getting everyone in your corporate sustainability plan.
All three of these activity types—environmental, economic, and social—are closely interconnected, so the lines between them can blur depending on the focus any given organization. The key take away for today’s businesses, however, is that all three are now components of the sustainability equation… It’s no longer just a question of, “Are you harming the environment?”
Watch for our next parathink Briefing on the expanding role of sustainability, coming early next month! You’ll find a download link on the blog, or you can sign up now to get a copy sent directly to your inbox as soon as it’s available.
In the meantime, all of us here at Paragraphs wish you and yours a happy holiday season!
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