In business context, sustainability is to operate without damaging the ecosystem in which the business exists. Ecosystem is comprehensive – business, social, economic and the environment. Thus sustainability can only be achieved if business is designed and operated in a manner that it is economically viable, socially harmonious and environmentally responsible.
Any business will draw natural, social and economic resources to operate. Key is to draw them in a manner that allows ecosystem to recoup itself. A good strategy, will take these into account. If the strategy is inclined towards only one of these aspects, organisation’s seemingly successful business may not sustain for long.
A “green” strategy, without the facet of economically viable business is as ineffective as an irresponsible business. We see so many green/eco-friendly products and solutions entering in the market and exiting at the same speed. Why? Because those products do not make economic sense, as either those are too expensive for businesses and individuals or fail to deliver desired results. This partly happens when the strategy loses the sight of the total picture. We need to understand that corporate performance cannot be measured exclusively based on either environmental or financial performance, these need to be unified.
Strategy is the responsibility of ‘leadership’. Top management is responsible for formulating the strategy, designing the organisation, and operating in a manner consistent with strategy. Top management has to be aware that it is ‘solely’ responsible for sustainability objectives.
Process starts at the design stage – are the planned resources in harmony with environment? Would the business be damaging the environment or co-exist in harmony? Whether there are apparent or inevitable environmental disruptions that are inherent in the design…et al are some of the pertinent questions at this stage itself. For example, are we planning to use ‘cleaning chemicals’ – without giving enough thought to the outcome viz damage to the assets & waste water treatment system or do they instead have a natural degradation possibility.
Process plan is the next critical stage – are the intended operations adhering to the premise of conserving & retaining the ecosystem they work in? Do we have sufficient controls, checks and balances to ensure this? As an example, in a tough monsoon year, is the paper mill cutting the tree to the roots or allowing a stub to regenerate in time as was intended originally. Unless operation complies with design, the purpose is defeated. Once again, it is a top management responsibility!
Sustainability needs to become the culture of organisation’s operations and growth strategy. This strategy then needs to be monitored, implemented, and evaluated well for success, which involves top management’s participation at all levels. From CEO to CFO and COO to CHR, strategy for sustainability needs to be adopted by the entire top management, instilling it in the core of company’s & all functions.
It’s time that the top management of companies reflect back to amend to develop a cohesive strategy for sustainability. To achieve this, some companies will have to drastically change the way they look at their businesses & run their operations, which will entail both risks and opportunities and may have a greater impact on human resource and customer base.
Therefore, companies need to deliberate these questions, ‘Are the vision/mission and core values of the company aligned to this new strategy?’, ‘What will be the right set of skills and knowledge leaders need to possess?’, ‘What are the issues that the company can address and create newer opportunities around?’, ‘Are the departments aligned with the sustainability strategy or it is just marking its presence in the sustainability report?’ and ‘Is achieving sustainability goal only the target for sustainability team or it has been embedded in the core of the operations across the length & breadth of the entire organisation?’.
In many organisations strategy and sustainability work in two different silos, as sustainability is seen as a peripheral issue. Where a CEO thinks about the profits, the CSO bothers about ‘green world’ and continues to consider it as cost center. This is not only thoughtless but also dangerous for both the business and future.
A business strategy with sustainability goal will definitely create a more sustainable business. CEO should be accountable for both profits and sustainability by CSO, for operating in the right way. Of course, this will challenge the way we understand the roles of functions and the responsibility of corporates towards sustainable development, and fundamentally rethink what the actual strategy should be. In a longer run, challenging the current mindsets and accelerating the current environmental and social trends will help the companies and governments address the world’s biggest social and environmental issues.
We need to remember that there is only one Earth to feed all the 7 billion people on earth who are all aspiring for better living standards. Unless we take it as a clarion call to change our ways of working, future may be grim.