What Does “Sustainability” Mean in Business?
When thinking about sustainability, consider these questions:
What does this product or service contribute to society?
Is there a social benefit to its use?
Can this product or service be used in ways that reduce negative impacts on the environment?
The term “sustainability” refers to the ability to continue operating indefinitely without depleting natural resources or damaging the environment.
Sustainable businesses are those that operate in ways that benefit not only themselves but also society at large.
Sustainable businesses use environmentally friendly practices and fair trade principles to create jobs, support local communities, and protect natural resources.
If you’re selling food, consider whether your product is organic, local, fair trade, or otherwise environmentally friendly.
If you’re selling products, are they made of recycled materials? Can they be recycled?
These are just a few examples of what sustainability can look like in businesses.
There are many others, including ethical sourcing practices, energy efficiency, waste reduction, water usage and conservation, and carbon footprinting.
To put it simply, sustainability refers to the effect of the business and its practices on the environment and society.
The Three Pillars of Sustainability
Sustainable businesses are those that contribute to the health of our planet and its inhabitants. They’re profitable because they create value for others, not just themselves.
There are three pillars of sustainability: Planet, People, and Profit. Each pillar represents a different aspect of sustainable business practices.
One of the main aspects involved in sustainability is the planet. This pillar, aka the environmental pillar, deals with environmental management.
Sustainability concerns itself with the environmental issues we’re facing. It deals with everything from the land, air, natural resources, freshwater, oceans, forests, and wildlife.
There are many approaches to environmental sustainability, such as:
- Energy consumption
- Waste management
- Reducing emissions
- Reducing pollution
- Protecting nature
- Protecting wildlife
People sustainability or the social pillar is the idea of prioritizing the well-being of people.
It deals with:
- Promoting diversity
- Quality of life
- Human rights
- Social justice
- Fighting poverty
- Cultural heritage
To be able to support the other two pillars, profit is needed. Profit is significant for long-term sustainability. But, profiting from sustainability means that it is done without negatively impacting the other two pillars: the people and the planet.
So, how that these three pillars translate into business?
The Three Pillars of Sustainability In Business
The planet pillar is also referred to as environmental sustainability.
In business, this involves the indirect and direct impact of business practices on the environment.
That includes how the business consumes energy and what energy resources they use. Are they using power efficiently? Are they using clean energy sources?
Does their packaging produce lots of waste? How do they deal with their waste or the waste of others? Do they manage their waste responsibly? Do they make efforts to reduce their waste? Or maybe they recycle the waste of others.
This pillar also involves the positive impact the business has on the environment. Examples are zero-waste initiatives, recycling, clean-up drives and other efforts.
This aspect of sustainability earns the most attention. It is what we mostly see when businesses market themselves as sustainable.
Aside from marketing, focusing on this pillar can also have a positive financial impact on the business. It can help gain customers through a great brand image and save cost by using less to be more eco-friendly.
This pillar forms the foundation of a strong and trustworthy social presence. Utilizing this pillar is also a great way to boost brand image.
The social sustainability pillar consists of the practices that will benefit the people. That involves those that are directly and indirectly connected to the business. This includes the employees, consumers, and the community it’s in.
Social media is changing how companies operate. Not just because customers use it to communicate directly with brands, but because it permits people to speak out against unethical practices.
In today’s world, consumers want to know that a brand is trustworthy, ethical, transparent, and honest.
If you’re not meeting the expected ethical impact, you could lose potential customers. And if you do meet those standards, you might find yourself gaining new ones.
There are numerous ways to build trust online. That includes transparency, authenticity, responsiveness, and respect.
That means customers will support a business that is transparent in its manufacturing process.
Is the business treating its workers right? Are they giving them a fair wage? Are they supporting local communities?
The social sustainability pillar also involves charities, movements, and giving back initiatives of businesses.
The economic pillar of sustainability refers to the idea that a business must be profitable, but it does not mean that profits come at any cost.
This is because profitability is just one part of the equation. The three pillars are interconnected. For example, a business that makes money without being environmentally friendly is unsustainable. A business that is socially responsible but not financially sound is not sustainable.
After all, sustainability means being able to do what you’re doing for a long time. And a business can’t last long without profits.
The Economic Pillar also includes the job market. It involves the mutual need of employers and employees. This can foster social sustainability and even people security.
But the main idea of the economic pillar is maintaining transparent and trustworthy governance. That also involves accounting practices and regulatory compliance.
How To Determine If A Company Is Actually Sustainable
Sustainable companies are those who practice sustainable practices and use environmentally friendly materials. They’re committed to protecting our planet, its resources, and the health of the communities where they operate.
Another way to determine whether a company is actually sustainable is to look at the company’s social media accounts. Many companies post pictures of themselves working with local farmers and artisans. These posts show that the company cares about the community and the environment.
What to look for:
Transparency means telling the truth, not just hiding things. Being open and honest about our actions, decisions, and the impact of those on the people and planet is what would prove your sustainability.
For businesses, this can mean creating reports. Where did the proceeds from charities go? Where are they sourcing their materials? What waste management practices are they utilizing in their manufacturing? How are they dealing with their carbon footprint? What is their sustainability plan for the future?
Most sustainable businesses at least posts compilations or blogs about their updates. But some go the extra mile to make annual sustainability reports. Corporate sustainability reporting is a great way to build trust.
Determine if the business has a clear sustainability objective.
Are they focusing on women’s rights? Do they want to make a difference in education? Maybe they’re making sustainability efforts towards healthcare access or fighting poverty? What are their sustainability initiatives?
A clear sustainability goal will make the path to sustainability more efficient.
Knowing the mission of a company will make you see the motivation behind their actions and even their sincerity. Knowing the passion of the brands will separate them from greenwashing companies.
Another way to separate genuine sustainable companies from greenwashing companies is to look for certifications.
Are they a certified fair trade business? Are their materials certified ethical? Do they have the Leaping Bunny Certification, or are they just claiming to be cruelty-free?
The time, money, and effort the business spent on going through tough certification processes will prove its passion for sustainability.
Another way to determine if a company is sustainable is to look at its products.
Are they made from ethically sourced materials? Is the packaging sustainable? Is the manufacturing process cruelty-free? Are the ingredients environment safe? What sustainability practices do they incorporate into their business process?
This is another aspect a business should be transparent in. But it will also help if the consumers do their research on the ingredients and materials used.
Using “natural” ingredients is one of the common ways some companies greenwash.
What Is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is when a company claims to be sustainable but isn’t actually green. Companies use greenwashing tactics to deceive consumers. They make them think that they’re buying eco-friendly products when they aren’t.
The most common form of greenwashing is when companies claim to support true sustainability but only support certain types of sustainability. They may also claim to care about the environment, but not enough to change their practices.
Companies often use greenwashing because they want to appear more trustworthy than their competitors. However, this deception hurts the environment and consumer trust.
Sustainability means doing what’s right for our environment and society.
In order to achieve true sustainability, we must look beyond our own personal desires and focus instead on the greater good. This doesn’t mean sacrificing profits for the sake of the earth; rather, it means finding a balance between profit and purpose.
When you combine these two concepts, you create a powerful force that drives innovation and growth.
By focusing on the future, you ensure that your company will thrive for years to come.
So whether you want to help save the planet or build a successful career, sustainability is the key to unlocking your potential.