Updated: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 01:03

An answer to: What is sustainability?

photo provided Rick Crawford is a Sustainability Consultant who assists businesses in their transition to operating more sustainably.
photo provided Rick Crawford is a Sustainability Consultant who assists businesses in their transition to operating more sustainably.
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You may have heard some businesses say they are “going green” or are “implementing sustainable business practices,” and you will continue to hear more and more businesses make these statements because operating sustainably is simply a good business decision.

For a business to be considered sustainable, it must use a triple bottom line approach.

All businesses have to have a healthy economic bottom line in order to exist, and that also is true for sustainable businesses. However, businesses that identify themselves as sustainable also believe it is necessary to have a healthy environmental and social bottom line.

The combination of healthy economic, environmental and social bottom lines is called the triple bottom line. Many businesses, such as Wal-Mart, Nike and Interface, have begun using the triple bottom line approach and have found their economic bottom line has been enhanced due to measuring the impact their business has on the environment and society.

The 1987 Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” and I believe this makes a lot of sense because, ultimately, a sustainable business is a responsible business.

A sustainable business realizes it has a responsibility to future generations so they, too, can prosper and have similar opportunities to succeed. Another way of saying this is the ancient Indian proverb that says, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

Most businesses don’t have the foresight to look beyond the next quarter, but those that do have realized they probably will not be able to continue to operate their business the same way they do today or as they will in 20, 50 or 100 years.

So, a sustainable business takes a triple bottom line approach, realizes it has a responsibility to future generations and looks beyond the next quarter.

But what else?

A sustainable business has chosen to examine whether their product or service is harmful to the environment and society. A sustainable business recognizes it should strive to reduce any harm it does to the environment and society because there is no business to be made on a planet without any natural resources.

A sustainable business sees improving its environmental performance as a way to increase competitive advantage and reduce operational costs.

A sustainable business is aware that worldwide population will reach 9 billion by 2050 and that there will be a strain on natural resources, so it should begin to use its energy more efficiently, minimize its waste and conserve water today.

A sustainable business realizes climate change is real and believes it can do its part to mitigate the impact its business has on climate change.

A sustainable business realizes it has a responsibility to pay its workers a fair wage. A sustainable business ensures that its products were not produced in a factory that allows children to work in unsafe working conditions at unfair wages.

A sustainable business provides its employees with a working environment that is healthy and safe. A sustainable business calculates and tracks its greenhouse gas emissions. A sustainable business recycles.

These are but a few things practiced by businesses that are responsible and, therefore, sustainable.

There’s no need to overcomplicate sustainable business. With an ever increasing demand for natural resources due to population growth and threats from climate change, the businesses that choose to act responsibly and address the aforementioned issues are the ones that will not only survive but thrive in the 21st Century.

A sustainable business is one that is able to sustain itself by looking to the future for external business opportunities and threats posed by climate change and population acceleration, as well as its own internal strengths and weaknesses to address these important issues.

Rick Crawford is a sustainability consultant who assists businesses in their transition to operating more sustainably. He can be contacted via email at rickcrawf@gmail.com or by phone at 912-441-3183.

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