The Brundtland Report defines sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ Sustainability in business means making business decisions that not only meet present-day needs but are also based on the long-term. This is essential for the future of our planet and also individual businesses’ success, as growing shareholder and stakeholder pressure demands greater transparency and accountability. Consider Aviva Investors’ recent announcement that it will divest from companies that don’t meet its expectations on tackling climate change. Having a sustainable business strategy and planning for future decades, rather than simply considering the profit or loss involved in the immediate short term, is increasingly being recognised as essential.
The B Corp Declaration of Interdependence states that ‘business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered… and thus we are responsible for each other and future generations.’ Notably, B Lab UK’s new Better Business Act Campaign aims to tweak the Companies Act to ensure that every UK business is stakeholder governed and responsible for society and the environment. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) have defined the world’s most important priorities and now businesses too must incorporate these, so as to create a sustainable business model. Businesses hold enormous power in capitalist society; and so must not only participate but lead and set an example through their corporate sustainability initiatives. They certainly have a role to play in the necessary reallocation of capital towards achieving the SDG goals.
What does a business culture of sustainability mean in practice?
It doesn’t mean setting targets simply for the sake of setting them, or to appease stakeholders. Instead, targets should be set with the intention that they will be achieved. Prince Charles’ new Terra Carta initiative recognises the importance of prioritising action over dialogue as we move into the Decade of Action. Not only does it highlight that organisations must take the planet into account, but it also provides a roadmap for doing so.
Nor does it mean a tick-box ESG exercise whereby an organisation greenwashes its activities. Instead, environmental and social governance must be a genuine action, fuelled by transparency, honesty and a desire to do better. It may be tempting for some corporations to oversimplify sustainability. But true transparency demands recognition of the fact that sustainability is interconnected with other social issues such as social, racial and gender inequality. It demands understanding that this is not a quick fix. Instead, corporations must work through the underlying systemic societal issues that act as a barrier towards true sustainability, so as to achieve a fairer future for all.
How to successfully integrate sustainability
One organisation doing this is Too Good To Go, an app that allows customers to buy reduced-price food from restaurants and stores that would otherwise go to waste. They work towards sustainability by aiming to lower the 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by wasted food. Meanwhile, clothing company Patagonia are impressive in their transparency and intersectional focus to their environmental and social responsibility.
Ultimately, what these organisations demonstrate- and what a business culture of sustainability means- is a very particular mindset. An understanding that your business needs to look out for the future of the planet if it is to continue making a profit longer term. And a genuine desire to be sustainable… not just to look like you’re being sustainable.
It also means measuring your impact, as the first step towards accelerating your organisation’s positive impact lies in understanding and tracking the same. Again, this is no “one size fits all” quick fix. To learn more about Maanch’s bespoke solutions or to book a demo click here.
Empowering employees to make sustainable lifestyle choices
Creating a business culture of sustainability also means empowering employees to make sustainable lifestyle choices. The impact of team members living sustainably, such as making easy eco-friendly swaps, goes well beyond that of the individual. It creates a workplace culture of sustainable living that encourages and normalises climate-conscious discourse.
At Maanch, we ran an internal challenge last December, encouraging our team members to make sustainable swaps in their lifestyle. We found it was challenging to measure the exact impact of such swaps, which were often qualitative. That said, running this as a team opened up conversations around how we can live sustainably and encourage others to do the same. It was great for morale, supporting one another and for team relations. Of course, improved team relations can only be a good thing for business as a whole.
Have you run or are you considering running a sustainable swaps challenge within your organisation? Please do write to us and let us know.
Blog by Maanch team member Anna Wallich.