If someone were to ask you if you have a sustainable business would you know how to answer?
There is no clear answer to this question. Sustainability means different things to different companies as well as industries. Sustainability really started with the whole concept of being green, becoming more environmentally friendly, and paying more attention to conserving our planet’s resources. However, sustainability has become much more than that. Sustainability has become a viable business strategy which takes into account the economic considerations for business sustainability, governmental issues, and opinions from customers and stakeholders.
Where did the term sustainability come from? The term sustainability actually emerged in the 1987 report by United Nation’s World Commission on Environment and Development. The report simply defined sustainability as follows: to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
No matter how a business defines sustainability or how they choose to implement the concepts, there is a commonality to sustainability that runs from business to business and industry to industry. Sustainability creates a competitive business advantage while positively impacting the environment. In our experience, there are really two issues of sustainability—protecting resources and the environment while building stronger, more profitable and sustainable companies.
Creating sustainability is a business strategy where the alignment of all organizational components is far stronger than any one individual component. Let’s take a look.
The single components include: People, Process, and the Environment. All three are important areas of focus. However when all three are aligned and focused on common goals and objectives, the advantage is substantial. Sustainability fosters long-term growth, Systems Thinking, profitability, customer loyalty, and community stewardship. You sustainable business would equal the sum of these parts.
People: When the area of People stands alone companies have a tendency to focus on solving problems, putting out fires, and reacting to situations as they appear.
Process: When Processes are not aligned and there is no strategic focus, a departmental mentality starts to bubble to the surface. Variation starts to creep in as each department is focused on self-interest in lieu of process alignment. A silo-oriented attitude is developed.
Environment: When companies focus solely on Environmental issues apart from their strategic direction they are often doing so merely to comply. In cases like this they consider sustainability an expense. They are doing it grudgingly because of regulations or customers are beginning to grumble.
But there are business advantages to embracing sustainability and depending on your organization the opportunities for enhanced business can be dramatic.
If you want to know if sustainability as a strategy makes sense for you here are three questions to address:
· What does sustainability really mean to your company?
· How can sustainability become a competitive advantage for your company?
· Where and how do you get started?
In the end sustainability should be part of your entire strategic plan and how you will continue to compete and grow in a changing environment.