When one thinks about Sustainability, the environment is often the first thing that comes to mind. And that’s not a bad thing; our planet needs help. But too many businesses consider going “green,” a cost item on a balance sheet. They don’t know or appreciate that environmental programs can be investments that pay dividends.
For example, even the simple act of replacing fluorescent lightbulbs with LEDs in a building can reap high financial rewards. Not only do LEDs last much longer, saving on the salaries of people who must continually replace them, but they also reduce a whole lot of electricity. To give you an example, switching to LEDs at the Barclay InterContinental in New York saved the hotel over US$400K!
So green is good; it’s just not good enough. Being sustainable is much more than the reduction of our carbon footprint, which is why there are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within the United Nations 2030 Agenda, not just one.
Check them out, and you’ll come to appreciate how diverse and expansive sustainable development must be to keep our planet, institutions, economies, and every living creature on earth healthy and prosperous.
Now take a look at the sustainable development you’re doing in your company. How many SDGs are you helping? How many are you hurting?
It’s not easy to truly analyze how our businesses are impacting the world and its citizens. But if COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that putting our heads in the sand and thinking, “it’s someone else’s responsibility to make life on this planet better for all,” is a death sentence.
We need to adopt more sustainable business practices, and we need to do it now. Sustainable development must become part of the DNA of our mission, values, and corporate culture.
So how do we apply sustainable development to our business? Where do we fit into the SDGs? Those are existential questions we must ask ourselves. But before doing that, let’s take a look at how we got to where we are today.
Sustainable development: a look back and forward
In 1981, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland became the first female Prime Minister of Norway and served three terms. In 1983, she became the Chair of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) and went on to publish Our Common Future (AKA The Brundtland Report) in 1987.
In it, the Commission defined Sustainable Development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
A year after the report was released, John Elkington, a world authority on corporate responsibility, published his book, The Green Consumer Guide, which sold millions. It was heralded as the catalyst for a modern-day sustainability movement and credited with starting the green consumer movement in America, the UK, and many other countries.
It’s been suggested that the recommendations of WCED in 1987 and the success of Elkington’s The Green Consumer Guide in 1988 led to “sustainable” being perceived as “green” by consumers and business people.
A decade later, Elkington published Cannibals with Forks in which he advocated that all businesses can, and must, help society achieve three goals: economic prosperity, environmental protection, and social equity. He coined these goals as the “Triple Bottom Line” (TBL) of profit, people, and planet – a business sustainability framework adopted by thousands of organizations worldwide.
Cannibals with forks brought Sustainability to the corporate world, and TBL became part of the business lexicon.
Elkington’s latest book, released earlier this year, Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism, explores the changing face of capitalism, democracy, and sustainability and its impacts on business, society, and the planet.
Writing this book had Elkington rethinking his Triple Bottom Line framework from profit, people, and planet to people, planet, and prosperity.
In a recent article about the book, the author stated that capitalism “must now become radically more economically inclusive, socially just, and — crucially — environmentally restorative.”
The world is now in what Elkington calls a historical U-bend where uncertainty and confusion are rampant. Hard to argue with that! To move forward and upward, we need to embrace the uncertainty, experiment with new economic and political models, identify opportunities for 10X thinking and solutions, and use the SDGs as our North Star.
COVID-19 certainly taught us what it means to live in uncertainty and discomfort; there is no industry, government, or society that the coronavirus hasn’t touched. Each is being transformed and will continue to be, as a result of this pandemic. There’s no going back, and there’s no business as usual. Going forward is our only option; whether that journey leads to prosperity or failure depends on us.
I know “the new normal” has become a cliché, but no one knows what the future will look like; we just know it will be different. But does that mean we sit back and wait for it to happen? No, waiting for it to happen makes us victims of circumstance. Embracing uncertainty and discomfort, as Elkington instructs, and capitalizing on bold opportunities makes us strong leaders.
“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.”
John F. Kennedy
35th President of the US
Beyond green: sustainable development in the new normal
Hopefully, after what we’ve been through, our journey to the new normal will be cleaner and greener, where more businesses embrace the circular economy.
That would help secure one leg of our 3-legged sustainability stool. But what about the other SDGs that address the needs of people and a prosperous economy?
How can we bring our businesses not just back to “normal” but better than ever in a world where no vaccine yet exists, and a recession looms over our heads? In times of acute economic decline, we typically hunker down and try and ride the wave, unless, of course, you’re one of these brands.
All of these, and many other successful companies were founded during an economic recession – when chaos shuffled the deck, as Trend Hunter’s, Jeremy Gutsche would say. The leaders of these companies weren’t interested in riding the wave, waiting for the world to go back to normal; their vision was to open a new deck where they held all the cards.
Sustainable development: a look forward
“Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face.”
United Nations Secretary-General
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is an action plan for the next nine years that focuses on the Triple Bottom Line of people, planet, and prosperity.
Adopting TBL can help propel us into an era of economic prosperity, social responsibility, and environmental sustainability. But it takes a lot of courage and commitment to stop the bleeding and help the healing.
PressReader sits at the cross-section between consumers, publishers, and consumer-facing brands, giving us a unique perspective on what they are doing in terms of sustainable development. And what we’ve seen during this pandemic gives us hope for a better tomorrow, particularly in the technology, healthcare, travel, libraries, and publishing verticals.
And while there isn’t enough room to share what every partner of ours is doing across all 17 SDGs, there are some inspiring examples in this issue of The Insider that showcase sustainable development at its best.
It’s been said that recovery always follows crisis. But, to come out of this U-bend stronger and more resilient, we need to ask ourselves:
- Can we take a leap of faith and embrace TBL in our business?
- Can we do it through the 2030 Agenda filter and commit to SDGs that apply to us?
- Can we spend this time preparing for the new normal so we can safely say we have not just emerged as a stronger company, but also a more sustainable organization – a better global corporate citizen?
I think we can if we work together. Let’s do this!