Sustainable Development in Business and its Implementation

By Marketing Advisory, 3EA
Sustainable Development in Business and its Implementation

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

Business sustainability refers to business models and management decisions grounded in financial, environmental and social concerns.

The following definition is suggested, "For the business enterprise, sustainable development means adopting business strategies and activities that meet the needs of the enterprise and its stakeholders today while protecting, sustaining and enhancing the human and natural resources that will be needed in the future". This definition was originally proposed by the World Commission on Environment and Development, and recognizes that economic development must meet the needs of a business enterprise and its stakeholders.

Corporate sustainability demands a broad view of issues and impacts, as well as a clear understanding of what the company does and how it does it. Sustainability is about using less, reducing waste, becoming more efficient, and thinking longer term. If a business can do this, whilst meeting the needs of customers and other stakeholders, then it will be survive and prosper.

Traditional sustainability is defined by the overlap between social, environmental and environment.

Some of the steps that can be followed by businesses are:-

  1. Understand sustainability and recognize its importance for the company
    As a first step, it is important to define what sustainability means for every department in the company and to identify its benefits. From investment decisions, developing new products or services to changing procurement practices, sustainability has an increasingly central role in these decisions.
  2. Involve stakeholders
    Depending on its line of business, a company's impact can vary among stakeholders. Generally, companies engage with the most influential groups, keeping close ties and constant communication. However, engagement can happen on different levels and should respond to expectations from both sides. Different levels and methods of engagement bring benefits to both companies and stakeholders and can be transformed into more sustainable practices.
  3. Set goals and objectives to be fulfilled
    Once, key environmental and social issues have been identified and engagement methods for each stakeholder group have been defined, efforts must focus on reducing risks and seizing opportunities around these issues, with regard to sustainable practices. Whether driven by cost reductions, increased employee benefits, innovation or improved financial performance, sustainability objectives and goals need to be established.
  4. Establish systems and processes to be followed
    Once the goals are established, specific systems and detailed processes need to guide the implementation of each initiative. The appointment of an internal sustainability executive as the main driver of sustainability and the development of a successful employee engagement model is a good practice. Unilever has accomplished to fully embed sustainability by appointing a Chief Sustainability Officer in 2012. The company's management structure includes a Sustainable Living Plan Steering Team, a group of external specialists in corporate responsibility and sustainability known as the Sustainable Development Group and the launch of the "Small Actions, Big Difference Budget" which finances employees ideas based on environmental benefit and financial return.
  5. Create conditions that encourage sustainability-related innovations
    Three things business leaders could start doing today to drive innovation are: look for trends in emerging economies or unrelated industries; initiate partnerships with universities and colleges to fill internal knowledge gaps; and select incentive programs that reward employees for suggesting ideas that save energy, reduce material use and improve products.
  6. Communicate sustainability goals throughout the organisation
    Building sustainability into an organization is no easy task. Sustainability or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) remains largely limited, as responsibility of a single department or even a single employee, in many companies. Even when sustainability is more widely integrated into companies or business units, communication remains a challenge. The entire organisation needs to be made aware about sustainable development in the business. This can be done by holding seminars or through circulars and workshops, for the employees.
  7. Follow up on the progress; communicate actions as per the expectations
    Lastly, it is important to set a system that measures the performance towards each goal. Defining key performance indicators to meet the set goals will allow them to detect areas for improvement and will gather relevant data to track progress.

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Article by: Marketing Advisory, 3EA