The most common approach to defining sustainability comes from the 1987 Brundtland Commission, defining sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” A good way to visualise this is through the three pillars of sustainability model, which take into consideration environment, social, and economic concerns (see figure 1 below). A truly sustainable approach will consider all 3 pillars.
The environmental considerations relate to our impact on nature. This includes issues like pollution, energy use and carbon emissions, use of materials and waste, water availability and biodiversity. The social considerations relate to human elements such as community, culture, equality, access to fair employment and training and health. The economic considerations relate to financial elements such as ethical business practices, stakeholder relationships, governance, and transparency.
Incorporating sustainability into your business is not only beneficial for the environment and social issues facing the world but it can also lead to improved brand reputation, cost savings, and long-term viability. Here are some ways you can implement sustainability into your business:
Implementing sustainability into your business requires you to assess how sustainability applies to each area of your company and to incorporate it into the company strategy. This involves identifying the key sustainability issues that are meaningful to your business and then developing a high-level plan showing how you propose to deal with these issues in a way that aligns with your company values. This can include setting targets, measuring performance and reporting on these issues. By doing this you can ensure that everyone in the business is aligned and working towards the same sustainability goals and the business is more able to adhere to environmental and social regulations.
For most organisations in the built environment, food and beverage, aviation and other industries, 80% of their spend is within their supply chain. Ensuring that your company’s procurement is sustainable is a critical part of client and contractor policies and strategies and this is often reflected in tendering processes. Sustainable procurement helps to ensure that a business is not just implementing environmental, social and economic considerations into their direct activities and decision making but across their whole supply chain from a more indirect approach. This means that the business is better prepared to deal with risks related to supply chain disruptions, reputational damage and regulatory changes.
Keeping key stakeholders aware of the action, progress and decisions being made around sustainability issues relevant to your organisation is crucial. There are several reporting mechanisms such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) which encourage organisations to produce and report data on sustainability. Many organisations also produce their own public ‘Sustainability Report’ where they outline their sustainability goals, commitments, and achievements to their stakeholders. Reporting on this data regularly allows all of your stakeholders to keep on top of what you are doing for sustainability and express feedback on how you are approaching it.
Remember that sustainability is an ongoing process, and it’s important to set measurable goals, track progress, and continuously seek opportunities for improvement. Each business is unique, so tailor your sustainability initiatives to your specific industry, resources, and goals.
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