This article looks into sustainability and its journey from a nice to have to a must have for businesses.
Sustainability can sometimes be put in the category of a nice to have activity. Important, but something to only receive attention after all other business-related problems have been solved. What this means in practice, is that businesses who utilise this philosophy make meagre progress on social and environmental issues. This is because there are always other incoming issues which are prioritised instead.
This is a shame and is caused by a mindset which sees sustainability as a luxury and something that will cost them money. As we will see shortly, simply by changing this mindset can see businesses use sustainability to create value.
Another example of mistaken thinking is to see sustainability as a communications or public relations device. There is no doubt that sustainability makes for excellent marketing collateral. It is disappointing therefore that so many sustainability communications are dull, turgid and devoid of any motivational or inspirational content.
Emphasis needs to be placed on actual sustainability progress. If more emphasis is placed on the hyping of mediocre gains than it is on getting businesses to use less energy and water and producing less waste, then this can be considered to be greenwashing. For more information on greenwashing please see the article below.
I am minded to reference a great paper released in 2014 by McKinsey & Company. The paper by Sheila Bonini and Steven Swartz sets out in clear detail that the era of seeing sustainability as a nice to have is over and that a focus on social and environmental parameters delivers real economic results for businesses. You can find the article via the link below.
They point to a growing body of evidence which indicates that sustainability initiatives can help to create profits and business opportunities.
They reveal that leading companies pursue sustainability because it has a material financial impact. Not because of any public relations or communications requirements. Even though many genuine communications opportunities may emanate from their efforts.
Their work also includes the well written quotation below. One that for a long time I was proud to display as a pinned Tweet on my Twitter feed.
“Sustainability is a long-distance journey; the evidence is growing that it is one worth taking”
A major outcome of their study which extensively searched the literature as well as original surveys was the following. Their conclusion is that sustainability programs are not only strongly correlated with good financial performance but also play a role in creating it.
With evidence like this coming from a respected organisation such as McKinsey & Company, the era of sustainability being seen as a nice to have activity has surely come to an end.
Their study also included an important revelation on why some businesses achieve success while others have mediocre progress on sustainability. They revealed that to succeed, sustainability efforts need to be an organisational priority, with clear support from leadership. Executive level buy is instrumental to progress on social and environmental areas.
What you need to know
This article looked into sustainability and its journey from a nice to have to a must have for businesses.
We looked into how sustainability can be marginalised and pushed to the back of the list of organisational priorities at some companies. It can also be seen purely as a reputation management tool. Both of these attitudes lead to chronic under performance on sustainability.
We looked into a well-researched paper by McKinsey & Company which points out that sustainability is not something that adds costs and complexity to businesses, but is something that creates value and opens up business opportunities.
Overall sustainability has moved from a nice to have to a must have, with executive level buy in propelling companies to perform strongly not just in economic aspects, but in social and environmental aspects too.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think about sustainability and its move from being a nice to have to a must have?