What does sustainability mean in business?

January 20, 2010 at 11:40 pm Leave a comment

I would define sustainability in three parts; the first part involves sustainability in the industry; the second part deals with sustainability of the environment, and the third part establishes the social sustainability. A business has an obligation to all three, so my definition of sustainability is: the achievement of top-line growth and bottom-line results for the long term; the responsibility to use methods; system and materials that won’t deplete or harm natural cycles, and an obligation to uphold the social contract with the society in which they operate.

Top-line growth indicates an increase of sales for any company. This is the first component to sustainability, because without this, there is no company. Bottom-line results for the long term refer to the fact that the company is also able to turn a profit, and this is essential to maintaining sustainability.  It does not matter what the company is doing for the environment, or what charities it is giving to; because if there is no company, then there will not be nothing to donate. For example, Patagonia must achieve bottom-line results to sustain long-term profitability and continue leading the 1% For the Planet effort.

The methods, system, and materials that are used by the business should minimize the ecological footprint left behind. This can be achieved in two ways:  one is increasing dependence on renewable energy; the other is considering carefully the entire life-cycle of a product, and impact from harvesting the raw materials to produce the product to how the consumer disposes of it. Patagonia takes this responsibility one step further and submits that they consider their responsibility from cradle to cradle, and they offer recycling opportunities for their used products.

The social contract refers to the responsibility the business has to all stakeholders. I believe that all businesses have a responsibility to address the consequences of their decisions on society at large. The focus should not solely be on maximizing revenue. The responsibility of the business is to do what is best for all of the people involved, including: employees, the general population, and our future generations. By practicing this behavior, the businesses will see long-term profits and sustainability. The mindset of executives will have to change because in the short-term it may cost them more to do the right thing. This would require corporations to focus on long-term results rather than quarterly profits.

These three parts are often referred to as the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profits.


Entry filed under: Sustainability. Tags: , , , , , , .

Do you still want to heat up your leftover food in that plastic container? Patagonia, a company maximizing the triple bottom line

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Michael Lemons

I will secure sustainability for your business with strategic CSR (corporate social responsibility) by making social impact integral to the unique value proposition of the company.

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