Sustainability is the new mantra in government, corporate boardrooms and environmentalists. It's a word that everyone knows but few actually follow through on it's potential for reducing costs and increasing profits.
The are many excellent definitions for the word. At its most basic, sustain means 'being able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.'
Looking globally from the book, "Our Common Future," Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
In Business, sustainability is often defined as managing the triple bottom line - a process by which companies manage their financial, social and environmental risks, obligations and opportunities. These three impacts are sometimes referred to as profits, people and planet.
Green is Good
There is a reason that so many large firms now deliver annual final reports AND sustainability reports. We now measure everything, because what you measure you can improve upon. Did you get your Fitbit yet?
It's the new "C" in your C Suite: the Chief Sustainability Officer. Their job is to look at all process flows: energy, water, waste, transportation, packaging -- and optimize these to reduce costs and increase profits.
Many major Cities have created the position of Sustainability Director. Our cities are the dominate demographic and economic engines of our nation. They also create the bulk of pollution. These Directors are charged with shifting energy use from fossil fuels to renewable energy, enhancing public transit options, reducing water usage and municipal waste. Several now have goals of 100% clean energy and recycling everything to get to zero waste.
The Venn Diagram that visualizes this issue places sustainability at the intersection of the economy, environment and society. Operating in only one sector are the extreme elements of our society, while the intersection of two create added value: Economy + Environment is a Viable system, Economy + Society is an Equitable system, Environmental + Society is a Bearable System. Only at the overlap of all three do you find a truly sustainable system, business or city.
Increasing your Market Share
Businesses that feature their sustainable practices are capturing the customers that feel this is important and matches their values. This is true for the largest market today, the millennials (87 million) -- as well as that older generation of Boomers (75 million). They look for labels and brands that follow sustainable practices in their products and services.
There's little downside to bring this thinking and actions to your business. The upside are lower supply costs, reduced waste, healthier employees and committed customers. Many books and websites exist to help your planning, one is the Natural Step. Large corporations get their guidance from the Wold Business Council for Sustainable Development.
So, What Should I be Doing?
Of course the choices will vary by business sector and size. One simple place to begin is with your expense statement, and looks at line items of energy, transportation, waste streams, and employee health care. Every business can increase energy efficiency with new lighting (LEDs), energy star refrigeration and HVAC options. Regarding your waste, there are companies that may pay you for your "trash" as this becomes the resource for their business.
Every roof you own has the potential to become a power plant and cut electricity bills -- in some cases to zero for some large tech leaders. Many low fossil fuel choices exist for your vehicle fleets. Gas/electric hybrids get 60 MPG equivalent and the all electric cars travel 100+ MPGe. Generous tax incentives reduce costs of these new vehicles and reduces your risk of gas price volatility.
Employees are often your largest expense, and sustainable thinking here provides multiple benefits. Everyone knows that happy and healthy staff perform at higher levels. Sustainable companies offer lunch rooms with healthy food choices and exercise gyms. Day care and time off for new parents has proven to enhance the quality of their work.
Why should you do this? Someone is right behind you
This planning and implementation takes time and investment. You are already working long hours to build your company. But if you look in your rear view mirror you'll find your competition is implementing these sustainable principles. They are pushing for ways to reduce costs, appeal to the consumer and create a healthy workforce.
Sustainability is an imperative if you want to stay ahead of your competition, appeal to a broader market and be a better corporate citizen.
Peter Meisen is the Director of the Global Energy Network Institute, working to link renewable energy resources globally. His current work at the SIMCenter is to visualize sustainable solutions to global and local problems so we make informed choices quicker.