Sustainability is multilaterally defined as the ability to “meet present needs without harming the future generation’s ability to do the same” in the United Nations Brundtland Commission in 1987. When we consider sustainability in business practices, we look at the need for a business to stimulate growth and maintain its position in the market by meeting the needs of its stakeholders, all without compromising the future. This actor can only become sustainable when they are able to pinpoint and act on its sustainability needs- exercising corporate responsibility.
The foundation of a sustainable business lies in the human, environmental, and economic principles of sustainable business practices. When we look at the human aspect, we engage with the long-standing impacts that a business has on the people who interact with it and their dependents. Environmental focuses on the organization’s relationship with its ensuing environment, and the economic arm engages with how a business can meet its financial targets while also championing corporate responsibility. When we can understand and interrogate how these 3 different characteristics can fit into our business needs and remain symbiotic with business operations, then we can finally begin taking the first steps towards addressing unique sustainability needs.
Conversely, we cannot go without saying that; a business cannot fully understand and act upon its sustainability needs without embracing the importance of circularity in its operations. Circularity is when a business is essentially able to manage its consumption and production in a way that prioritizes using resources for as long as possible- extending their life cycles wherever possible for as long as possible. When a business can weaponize this, it means that it has essentially managed to foster a symbiotic relationship with people, and the environment and has been able to piece together an intricate ecosystem that pedals towards meeting its unique sustainability demands.
Read More: Creating a Circular Business Model
One thing to note is that although there are commonalities in meeting sustainability demands like adopting clean energy for office spaces and boosting employee well-being and development. There is no one-size-fits-all to achieving sustainability because of the industry differences that decorate the global market. When we delve deeper into the commonalities, we can see the unique needs of a business represented within them through their application. When we reach beyond the surface, we then begin to dissect how unique businesses are and in turn, how different their sustainability needs are.
Consider the material topic ’employee well-being’. At face value, it seems like a universally applicable idea, which is a fair assumption. But when we dig deeper into this material topic, we can see that it applies differently if it were tagged to a hospital compared to a bank. For example, in a bank, promoting employee well-being might involve offering subsidized forex exchange charges, while in a hospital, it could manifest as providing support group sessions for hospital staff. When a business can identify what sustainable goals matters most to its stakeholders, it is then able to find ways to best meet their expectations.
Hurdles and Springs: Unique Challenges and Opportunities to Unique Sustainability Needs
Sometimes when a company is able to identify a sustainability gap in their activities, they aren’t able to address it because there is a lack of innovative technology and affordable solutions that can best help the business manage this gap. This is rarely ever a business’s fault and is primarily a consequence of the infancy of the application of sustainability on a global scale. It can be a demoralizing experience; however, if weaponized, businesses can address this gap through investing in incubation hubs (internal or external via partnerships) to grow the number of tools for sustainability that are available in the market and can help address particular sustainability needs.
Yes, the costs that come with moving towards sustainability may be industry-specific, but modifying operations can generally place a heavy burden cost on the business and sometimes its customers. If a business cannot absorb this cost, it is passed on to its consumers. Say for instance an organization shifts to green fuels like green methanol and ammonia they’ll face additional costs because green fuels often experience higher demand than there is supply in the market. When a business comes across this situation, it can be addressed one of two ways; if it can absorb the costs without feeling as much as a blow to its margins, then it’ll be able to maintain its pricing structures. However, if this isn’t the case, they’ll transfer the costs to their consumers. If a business’s customer base chooses its products or services due to their affordability and faces the latter scenario in our hypothetical, it can undermine its ability to grow sustainably over time as customers may start seeking more cost-effective alternatives. Not to worry; this can be managed through seeking specialized assistance from sustainability experts. They can help a business navigate these challenges, assess what it can realistically handle, and offer guidance on how to grow its capacity to integrate and adapt to the demands of sustainability.
Reaching the end of our article, we can now reflect on the differences that colour sustainability in the various industries we interact with. Differences offer opportunities for innovation and thought leadership in business but can only be used to unlock the benefits that come with responsibility following a deepened understanding of the needs specific to your business concerns and operations.