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
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
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.