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What is Business Sustainability?

        posted by , April 09, 2013

I decline to accept the end of man... I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.
~ William Faulkner
Business sustainability is the capacity of a business to endure.

It's an approach that recognizes that a business is connected to ecological and social systems. It's the idea that if these systems fail — the business also fails.

Definition: Business Sustainability

Business sustainability is a strategy that prioritizes the long term survival of a business and connected ecological, social and cultural systems.

Business sustainability is a business principle that is widely recognized as a critical strategic concern for governments and organizations. Many organizations have chosen to integrate sustainability principles into their business models.

Definition: Sustainable Business

A sustainable business is an organization that prioritizes environmental principles and socially responsible behavior in its business model. Environmental principles are applied to all business decisions and are a central theme of its business strategy.

Non-sustainability threatens the survival of nations and the global financial system. These systems tend to defend themselves when threatened. As a result, it's increasing common for markets, regulators, customers, employees and partners to require sustainability from every organization.

Definition: Triple Bottom Line (TBL)

Triple Bottom Line (TBL) is an accounting standard accepted by the United Nations that measures three aspects of organizational success: economic, ecological, and social. This is often rephrased "people, planet, profit".

triple bottom line

Organizations that fail to incorporate sustainability as a strategy are unlikely to endure. In other words, it's likely that the successful firms of the future will be highly sustainable.

The following examples illustrate a few common sustainability strategies.

1. Energy Efficiency

An office building that leverages passive solar architecture can dramatically cut energy needs for lighting and temperature control.

2. Waste Reduction

A supply chain that uses reusable boxes instead of cardboard.

3. Emissions Reduction

A rooftop garden reduces the carbon footprint of an office building (gardens can be used to insulate a building).

4. Toxic Substance Reduction

A manufacturer replaces toxic materials in its products with safe alternatives.

5. Sustainable Transport

A company pays the public transportation fees of its employees but doesn't have a parking lot.

6. Durable Products

A tire manufacture is able to engineer its products to last twice as long.

7. Reusable Products

A car manufacture designs parts to be easily reused. When its models are junked their parts are valuable.

8. Fixable Products

An electronics company designs a tablet computer with swappable components. When the device breaks, it can be fixed by the customer by swapping the broken component.

9. Secondhand Sourcing

A company purchases secondhand office furniture.

10. Recycling

An electrics manufacturer offers a recycling program. It pays customers a small fee for their old devices and recycles every part and material in each device.

11. Sustainable Supply Chain

According to the EPA, long-haul freight trains are more than 9 times more energy efficient than trucks (325 vs 3,163 BTU / ton-mile) 1.

12. Sustainable Architecture

Energy-efficient landscaping is used to passively heat and cool a home (landscape architecture).

13. Biodiversity

A forest is allowed to return to its natural state. Trees are harvested at a sustainable pace.

14. Sustainable Agriculture

Recently desertified land is reclaimed for agriculture with sustainable techniques for provisioning water, soil fixation and hyper-fertilizing. The new farmland dramatically reduces extreme poverty in the area.

15. Sustainable Processes

A manufacturing process improves product quality to avoid the wastes associated with customer returns (i.e. manufacturing a product only to have it shipped to the customer and then shipped back for a quality issue is wasteful).

16. Renewable Energy

Depending on the weather, Germany produces up to 50% of its electricity with solar.

17. Social Responsibility

The employees of an investment bank start a program to fund surgeries for poor youth in a developing nation to work towards elimination of preventable blindness.

More: 50 Sustainability Strategies You Can Implement Now

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