Submitted: The Two Sides Team May 6, 2013
A question posed and posted by GreenBizs Joel Makower a little over a month ago asks, What is sustainability anyway? Admittedly, its a question we have asked on the Going Green blog at various times over my three-year tenure and whilst it is easy to come up with abstract theories, and perhaps loosely defined mission statements, identifying concrete steps has tended to be elusive. But perhaps even more importantly, how do we get people excited about sustainability?
What can be done? First, I suppose, we need to answer the question, What is sustainability? Mr. Makower, in his post, runs through a litany of definitions from around the Web, from Wikipedia to the EPA, but finds perhaps the best definition from a consultancy called SustainAbility:
While sustainability is about the future of our society, for todays industries and businesses, it is also about commercial success. The mandate to transform businesses to respect environmental limits while fulfilling social wants and needs has become an unparalleled platform for innovation on strategy, design, manufacturing and brand, offering massive opportunities to compete and to adapt to a rapidly evolving world.
Not a lot in terms of action items, but there is a hint of how to instill the excitement that is a prerequisite to pursuing any action items. That is, the best way to get anyone excited about anythingsad to sayis money. Commercial success. Talk to any company that has implemented sustainable practices, and nine times out of 10 you will find that it has, if not made, then it has saved them money. Sustainability is largely about reducing wasteand there are few downsides (if any) to reducing waste.
But there must be more to it than thatand there is. In a follow-up to Mr. Makowers post, Bob Willard and Chad Park look for a possible gold standard for sustainable businesses. They identify Interfaces Mission Zero initiative, which is broken down into three broad areas:
Sustain the environment by taking nothing from the earth that we cannot easily and rapidly replace.
Sustain society by educating our employees and associates on our impact on the environment and helping them create solutions that reduce our footprint.
Sustain our economic health by creating products and solutions that are not only environmentally-friendly, but profitable as well.
The last one raises a good point: the company must be able to sustain itself, and that means being profitable. There are also The Four System Conditions that can be used as guiding principles for sustainable businesses.
Ultimately, its about being innovative. Anyone who is serious about their business thrives on being innovativeor at least they should. After all, thats what gets the real entrepreneur excited.