This article is the first of four different articles which form the cornerstones of my blogging here on SustainabilityForum.com. All of my basic understanding of Sustainability and Business is written about here in these four articles. I am trying to keep it short and direct. And if my views on this topic are changing you will read the reasoning here. So let’s get in to the first topic of Sustainability and Business and why this means sustainable business to me. The other three articles will follow during the first months in 2018.
The relationship of Sustainability and Business
Sustainability and business always had and always will have a tumultuous relationship. And this is no surprise if you look at what Sustainability and Business are meant to achieve as a concept.
Sustainability on the one hand “in an ecological sense is the is the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely” (Wikipedia on Sustainability). We as a civilization need to strive for the sustainability future we can achieve. Achieving Sustainability is a socio-ecological process that never stops and total Sustainability can never be achieved in a given time and space. Moving towards Sustainability is a process that helps us stay focused and aware of what we are doing to our civilisation and planet. A perfect sustainable future is a future where business and sustainability among other goals are all aligned to work in harmony.
In business on the other hand, growth is the global economic driving factor. This is the nature of any market economy as the economic system. Without business and its growth paradigm, our economic system would collapse. The ultimate goal for any business, next to growth, is to create turnover and revenue for its shareholders.
But business also has a responsibility to not harm us as a civilization and our planet while conducting business. A business can also be described as an organisation that provides goods and services for human needs (Wikipedia on Business) and is therefore intrinsically linked to us as a civilization. So if you look at Sustainability and Business separately, you will automatically come to the conclusion that business has to play one of the key roles in this process of achieving Sustainability. Sustainability and business have a key relationship that is unique and difficult. For me as sustainability blogger this relationship is called Sustainable Business.
How I see Sustainable Business
For me sustainable business has two main elements:
- Sustainable Business Basics (SBB) – Theory, Research and Standards
- Sustainable Business Best Practice – How Sustainable business is practised
Sustainable Business Basics (SBB)
The first element of how I see sustainable business are so-called Sustainable Business Basics (SBB). The SBB’s consist of theory, research and standards.
The sustainable business academic base defines and helps us to make sense of what sustainable business is and means from an academic point of view. Sustainable business as a concept is based in the academic world as far as I see it. This theory taught in a vast number of Sustainability focused study courses is the basis for our future Sustainability professionals and is a one of the main drivers for the sustainability and business relationship.
Outside of the universities there are many NGO‘s and certified B Corps that have been driving factors in advancing Sustainability and Business research. Examples include AccountAbility, SustainAbility and many others. Without these NGO’s or B Corps, as the in-between for business and stakeholders, the sustainable business community would not exist.
The last and very important of the SBB’s is the development of standards and guidelines on sustainability reporting. Sustainability reporting standards and guidelines are developed by leading NGO’s across the globe. These standards and guidelines help make more sense of the vast amounts of data and content that a business has or wants to report about their sustainability efforts. Examples include the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the IIRC and SASB.
I also want to briefly mention the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) in this context. The SDG’s as per SDG website : “The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets (…) demonstrate the scale and ambition of this new universal Agenda. They seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what these did not achieve. They seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. The SDG’s are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.” At the moment I am not fully informed when it comes to these 17 SDG’s and 169 targets I have to admit. But I will change this and will for certain publish several posts on these goals. So stay tuned for more in the SDG’s.
Sustainability and business best practice
The second element is Sustainability and business best practice examples. “Best practice is a method or technique that has generally been accepted as being superior to any alternatives”. In the Sustainability and business sense this means, that companies practicing sustainable business best practice know what the are doing because they have had success with their way of doing things. Best practice might be routed in SBB’s but are not necessarily. That is what makes best practice so unique and useful.
For me sustainable business best practice is the most interesting to write about. I am a very practical person when it comes to business. Thinking differently about a problem or issue is something I enjoy. It all started with sustainability case studies back in the business school and continued all through my career so far. For me sustainable business best practice is like the salt in the soup. 🙂
The following paragraphs will highlight some companies and their best practice examples in a very short way in order to give you an example. I will not go into detail here but will do so in various blog posts in the Sustainability and CSR blog category.
Sustainable business best practice examples
When we talk about sustainable business in 2017 and beyond, the example of Unilever should always be in the top three list. I will not go into detail here but make sure you visit their Sustainable Living Plan and take the time to go into detail with what they are doing.
Patagonia needs to be the second example in my view. The sustainable business leadership from the US side of the world is indispensible in such tough political times. I think their mission statement speaks a million words: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” If you are looking for another great best practice example look no further. Also make sure you follow Patagonia on Twitter.
My third example needs to be Novo Nordisk from Denmark. Novo Nordisk has been one of the leaders in sustainable business for over 10 years now. And they are still in my top three Sustainability and business best practices examples. Their special combination of transparency, business sector and cultural heritage as a Danish company make a great example on how sustainable business can make a difference these days.
These two elements of sustainable business basics (SBB) and best practice examples make up my view of sustainable business.
My coverage of sustainable business
In order to reflect this viewpoint I am trying to cover the following topics here on the Sustainability Forum website:
- Sustainability and Sustainability News
- Sustainability and sustainable best practice
- Sustainable business and sustainability commentary