What Is A Sustainable Business?
The word 'sustainability’ has obvious connections with the environment, climate change and carbon footprints, but in the business world the term also refers to financial stability and longevity, among other things.
The Definition of Sustainable Business
The very definition of 'sustainability' encompasses economic, or financial stability, as well as ecological balance. Yet the impact of both definitions when used to describe an organisation's activities can be worlds apart.
For instance, a company that is financially sustainable due to lower costs of unethical (but not illegal) investments or supply chains is certainly operating differently to the organisation pledging zero carbon emissions.
Then there are other elements considered sustainable business practices, such as gender equality, transparency, community outreach and employee wellbeing.
Financial or Environmental Sustainability: What's Better For Business?
Unless you're operating a one-off-pop-up shop, it's in most peoples' interest for businesses to be sustainable in every sense of the word.
Financial sustainability, on a basic level, means you can plan ahead, offer a sense of security for employees and have longer-term strategies for growth. For non-profits, social enterprises and community organisations, it also increases (along with diversifying revenue streams) viability and longevity of the organisation.
The awareness of business activities on environmental impact, particularly in the current political climate, is leading to more of a mainstream adoption of sustainable practices. It's not just businesses responding to consumer demand, either. Businesses are doing it off their own bat: recognising that unless they make changes to how they operate, things may change for the worse.
Business Decisions With Impact
It's not just about installing energy-efficient light bulbs (although that is extremely helpful!).
Businesses that are taking their ecological footprint seriously are doing so to make the world a better place. Yes, there might be government incentives in the form of grants, etc, to adopt more sustainable supply chains or processes, but ultimately, business leaders are seeing the benefit of taking action now.
The rise of the B-Corp in Australia further demonstrates our acceptance of shaping business models specifically to make a positive environment and social impact. This is a noticeable change from traditional for-profit businesses simply adopting corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a way of connecting to the community or a cause, which critics often view as just part of a marketing strategy.
In Australia, businesses in a range of industries are stepping up to the challenge of becoming more sustainable. Some businesses make gradual changes, others create a major overhaul,often disrupting their very industry. It might be reviewing supply chains, making local connections, or giving back to their communities.
The length that an individual business goes to in order to fulfill a sustainable goal, varies as much as individual businesses do.
Businesses who aren't considered to have a large impact on the environment (say, professional services, where changing the lightbulbs might seem the most productive option), are still in a position to make their actions count. Whether your sustainability strategy is to switch to green energy, or to change supplier arrangements, modify product requirements or review your company's entire purpose - the important thing is that you actually have a sustainability strategy and are taking actions towards those goals.
Your Business Legacy
The business landscape is going through many changes at the moment, with technology directing much of it. However, technology will be on the back foot if the world keeps ignoring the (endangered) elephant in the room: our unrelenting impact on the earth's natural resources.
The role of sustainability in business, and how business leaders adopt and champion strategies to reign in our impact on the environment, is going to be interesting to watch over the next decade.
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." - Dr Seuss