In today’s business landscape, sustainability has become a buzzword that pervades discussions at corporate and executive levels across diverse industries. While some might dismiss it as just another passing trend, sustainability is undeniably gaining rapid traction and reshaping supply chains and internal operations across several industries.
“So, what is sustainability?” This question has arisen from a variety of our clients as they experience pressures from their leadership teams, clients, employees, and other stakeholders of their companies. While sustainability might seem like a daunting topic to understand, the concept is quite simple. Let’s break it down:
The Literal Definition: Consider the term “sustainable” without any context. It means maintaining something for a prolonged period at a constant rate. For instance, holding your breath for 9 seconds is doable, but doing so for 9 years is not, therefore it is not a task that can be sustained long term. In the context of business practices, the same principle applies – sustainable business practices are practices that can be maintained over the long term.
Applying Sustainability to Business: When we view sustainability through the lens of business practices, it becomes evident that some choices are simply not sustainable. Overspending, a lack of health and safety protocols, and a lack of proper training are prime examples of unsustainable practices. However, trying to correct these practices with more sustainable solutions can be time consuming and expensive. To achieve sustainability, it’s important that solutions are practical; without practicality, we cannot achieve sustainability. Remember the breath holding example above- if your solution is only doable in the short term, it may not be a sustainable solution.
Now that we grasp the fundamental concept of sustainability, let’s explore its modern-day interpretation and the buzz surrounding it:
Sustainability embodies a comprehensive approach, encompassing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors as integral components of business operations. Essentially, it involves embracing ESG topics and integrating them into a company’s practices, especially with regard to ethical principles and values.
ESG topics within sustainability are remarkably diverse, reaching far beyond initial assumptions. Examples include health, safety, and well-being; economic growth; community involvement; diversity and equality; energy usage; and emissions. Undoubtedly, initiating sustainability in your business practices can seem challenging given the breadth of ESG topics. Our advice is to “start somewhere and start small”. Focus on a few key topics that align with your stakeholders’ values and measure the impact of your initiatives. Tracking progress and formalizing your sustainability efforts through ESG reporting can effectively showcase your commitment to sustainability. Notably, there are various reporting frameworks available, such as the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) standards and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards, that can guide you on this journey.