Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Global Consistency in Sustainability

The ongoing growth of sustainability demands more coherence. Sustainability is now a mainstay of forward looking businesses. There is still so much that remains to be done, we are seeing progress in sustainable business. Companies are reducing their negative impacts and increasing their positive contributions.

From circular economies to dematerializations, business models are evolving quickly and it is hard to keep up with the rapid changes. While there are a number of guidelines, codes, standards and best practices they are anything but universal. Consequently, the focus of sustainability efforts vary widely from company to company.

In its simplest essence sustainability is about good business that functions in harmony with people, society and the environment. While the morality of good business is a driving concern, the key to successfully engaging sustainability is real and quantifiable business returns. A business cannot sustain itself if it is not profitable. Balancing all of these often contradictory issues can be both complex and daunting.

Taking the long view is central to sustainability. That is why companies often talk about their sustainability journeys. This involves a great deal of trial and error.

According to an Ethical Corp Survey, embedding sustainability is top priority and a key business driver in 2015. Their survey revealed that more than 45 percent of respondents stated that embedding sustainability throughout the organization is a top priority for 2015. Nearly 25 percent of executives polled said their organisation is driven by sustainability.

However another report suggests that sustainable business appears to have plateaued in 2015 and in some areas it may even be declining. Nonetheless we are seeing an increase in the scope and scale of awareness of the challenges we all face. We are seeing progress on governance as it applies to sustainability engagement. National and municipal governments are getting onboard ahead of COP 21 in Paris.

While corruption remains a salient problem, it is increasingly on the radar. Important actions include enforcement of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Dodd-Frank (transparency and traceability) and Lacy (illegal timber) acts. Management systems are also coming together in areas like deforestation and the use of toxic chemicals.

Collaboration is one of the buzzwords that has permeated sustainability discussions for years now and it is beginning to make a difference. We are seeing evidence of collaboration within sectors, across different sectors and between business and government.

We are seeing progress in a number of technological innovations (ICT, software and social media) in support of sustainable business. Scaling remains a challenge as are systems that will help track and manage performance. We need to see the alignment of the digital revolution (cloud, analytics, social, mobile, the internet of things) with sustainability.

We have learned that low carbon labeling is inadequate on their own to augur the change we need to see. We have also seen that emerging markets are recognizing and dealing with the challenges.

Now more than ever we need global consistency. This means unified, coherent strategic approaches that offer real value. Thankfully there is a better grasp of the issues and a growing pool of data that offers tangible proof that sustainability makes sense.

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