This article looks into what a sustainable corporation is. What can we distil from the worlds of sustainability and business? What is the DNA of a sustainable corporation?


These issues will of course vary. Different businesses operating in different industries or vertical markets will need to prioritise according to their specific needs.

But I would say that it is necessary to perform strongly in all of the following areas to be considered to be a sustainable corporation.

There are two extremely powerful numbers in sustainability, 100 & 0. I remember reading John Elkington’s book The Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier in November 2016. John delivers his own considered and powerful insights throughout the book. This article then is my own small homage to the greatest sustainability writer of all time.

1.     Zero faults

A sustainable corporation needs to be a high quality corporation. There are some consumers who are willing to pay for an inferior product with strong social and environmental credentials but they are few in number. Thankfully, sustainability can increasingly be seen as a proxy for good management and more and more organisations are making it a strategic priority.

When people opt for sustainable products or services, they need to be comparable on price and quality with other less sustainable options. This is imperative. If you can make them with higher quality properties, then this is ideal. Many early sustainable options such as recycled paper that was of low quality and that would jam printers were not up to the job. Thankfully the performance of sustainable options is improving all the time.

A company that I have written about before and that I will mention again because of their commitment to total quality management is General Electric. They were one of the most enthusiastic adopters of a zero faults approach. Over time they embedded the ethos into the workforce and into the products they create. This has dovetailed nicely with their more recent growth strategy Ecomagination. General Electric is an industry leader, doing great things on sustainability and their focus on zero faults has played a key part in their success.

A zero faults approach is key to becoming a sustainable corporation.

2.   Zero waste

Waste is a bad thing; it is a word with negative connotations which is impossible to spin in a positive direction. If you have created waste, you have failed and you must readdress your processes.

The waste hierarchy shows the way forward. It should be implemented


Anyone can order their waste to be collected and sent to a landfill or to an energy from waste plant. That takes no skill or courage. It is bad for the environment and it is wasteful.

Becoming zero waste requires commitment, farsightedness and smart processes. These can involve self-loading single material collections where you can receive a payment for your recyclable materials.

There may be opportunities to re-use materials in some fashion. Again, this requires networking and some degree of effort to match people who are looking for materials that are surplus to your requirements. A great charity that I have been impressed by recently is the Watford Recycling Arts Project (WRAP). They specialise in the recycling and repurposing of ethically sourced commercial waste for creative enterprise. They have a really interesting subscription based business model and they do an incredible job at diverting waste from landfill and incinerators. You can find a link to their website below.

Watford Recycling Arts Project (WRAP) Website


Higher up the waste hierarchy is the holy grail of waste management, prevention. This strategy offers big savings but it’s often the hardest to do. Preventing waste from being generated is almost always the most sustainable option.

Becoming a zero waste business is a crucial element of being considered as a sustainable corporation.

3.   Zero pollution

Zero pollution is a goal, which like zero waste is challenging to achieve. But the archetypal sustainable corporation must have it as part of their mission statement.

A great company in this regard is Patagonia, who have the following inspiring mission statement.

“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”

Again, becoming zero pollution is a lengthy process that requires commitment and smart processes. Some things can be done more easily though, such as procuring renewable energy, having an all-electric fleet and prioritising train travel and video teleconferencing above business air travel.  These quick wins should be targeted early before other more challenging pollution sources are eliminated.

Sustainable corporations have a desire to take less from the earth socially and environmentally and as such they must push to becoming zero pollution businesses.

4.   Zero unethical actions

On paper, this may look like the easiest to achieve, but it is still a tall order. What does your company represent? What do people think about when your company’s name is mentioned? Do they think of a brand that is providing solutions to the world’s problems or do they think of a brand that is adding to the world’s problems.

A key way to demonstrate ethical actions and behaviours is through a commitment to being net positive. Being less bad is not inspirational. Aiming to be net positive can act as a catalyst for sustainable actions and innovations. It’s about giving back more than you take out. In this regard, the Net Positive Project has done much to raise the profile of businesses who aim to behave in the most ethical fashion possible.

Sustainable corporations must aim for zero unethical actions.

What you need to know

This article looked into what a sustainable corporation is. We looked into what the key factors are that make up the DNA of a sustainable corporation. These are:

1.     Zero faults

2.    Zero waste

3.    Zero pollution

4.    Zero unethical actions

Although it is a difficult path to being considered to be a sustainable corporation, it is ultimately worth it.

We looked at examples of companies that have reaped organisational and brand benefits from their commitment to sustainability.

A sustainable future will have to be made up of an economy of sustainable corporations, we need more of them. The key ingredient that cuts through all four of the factors is leadership. We need more bold leaders.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think a sustainable corporation is?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

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