How To Make Your Business Sustainable

3 cornestones of a sustainable business

The words Sustainable and Sustainability are used interchangeably depending on context and mean a variety of things. Here’s a list of some views (taken from the Sustainable Store) on what Sustainability can encompass:

  1. Sustainability means renewing resources at a rate equal to or greater than the rate at which they are consumed.
  2. Sustainability means living within the resources of the planet without damaging the environment now or in the future.
  3. Sustainability means creating an economic system that provides for quality of life while renewing the environment and its resources.
  4. A sustainable community is one that resembles a living system where all of the resources (human, natural and economic) are renewed and in balance for perpetuity.
  5. Sustainability is creating a world where everyone can have fulfilling lives and enjoy a rich level of well-being within the limits of what nature can provide.
  6. Sustainability means taking the long-term view of how our actions effect future generations and making sure we don’t deplete resources or cause pollution at rates faster than the earth is able to renew them.
  7. Some of the many uses of the word sustainable include: Sustainable Business / Sustainable Development / Sustainable Agriculture / Sustainable Living / Sustainable Community.

As you can see there are many areas that are attached with the term ‘sustainability’. For businesses these have a direct correlation to their daily activities, and in the long term, to their survival. However, not enough time and focus, is given to this extremely critical issue.

Majority of businesses approach the issue of sustainability piece-meal. Depending on the nature of the business there are CSR (Corporate Social Responsibilities) or as EEP (Employee Engagement Program) programs introduced. Each with its independent goals to achieve. They, often, do not have clear and measurable targets and, most importantly are not derived out of the business strategy.

How can businesses make themselves sustainable?

There are three cornerstones in developing sustainability in business:

  1. Brand Sustainability: This is the starting point in developing a sustainable business. Once the business strategy i.e. the short and long term goals have been identified the delivery of that is led through the brand. In terms of business planning this is the  section is where the brand’s footprint and impact, across its audience, is planned for. This is the stage where product development, marketing and communication strategy would be defined.
  2. Organisational Sustainability: This is the section where organisational resources will need to be evaluated for delivery of the business strategy i.e. manpower competency & skills sets, identification of required training, evaluation of current processes and systems and planning of scaling up as maybe required.
  3. Financial Sustainability: Finally, when brand and organisational sustainability plans are in place, the costs of the same would translate into budgets. This is where the core team of CMO, CFO & Business Development Head have to work very closely to ensure correct translation of specific costs as investments in order to have a healthy bottom-line and to earmark the quarterly earnings for the business.

These three cornerstones, if developed properly i.e. with adequate time and granularity, will encompass specific sustainability issues of natural and human resources and community benefit and development and lay out initiatives (a la CSR or EEP programs) that have a clear line-of-sight with the business strategy.

The benefits of undertaking such sustainable business planning are quite a few. Here’s the top three that would be of help:

  1. Each initiative is directly correlated to a particular stakeholder group and would map out measurable achievements with a timeline. This provides a clear road-map for boards’ to see progress of the business.
  2. Specific initiatives can be identified which impact the business’s eco-system i.e. all stakeholders and the specific markets, and these can then be turned into CSR or EEP’s.
  3. Prioritising fund allocation for the specific initiatives becomes more scientific as it would be based on the need, impact and return from that initiative.

In summing up, a sustainable business is not just to do with contributing to reducing carbon emissions and saving natural resources (these should be part of the business process) but its more to do with development of the entire eco-system with which the business interacts on a daily basis. Planning and ensuring specific initiatives that benefit the eco-system will lead to greater engagement which would translate to continuous growth.