What is sustainability?
World Commission on Environment and Development (also known as the Bruntland
Commission) defines sustainable development as "development that meets
the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations
to meet their own needs." Sustainable businesses recognize that finite
natural resources are available to a rapidly increasing global population
billion people today, expected to reach 8 billion by the year 2050. As limited
resources- water, fossil fuels, clean air, arable lands - become scarce
and degraded by human activity, creative solutions, from the amazingly simple
to high technology, are evolving. And the result can be improvement in both
financial and environmental performance. One example from a recent Aspen
Anheuser-Busch developed a can thats 33% lighter,
and the companys overall recycling plan saves $200 million/year.
Whats a Sustainable Business Strategy?
Simply put, a strategy that replaces linear manufacturing with cyclical processes that mimic nature. Businesses produce more value with less "stuff"...less raw materials, energy and environmental pollutants. And the bottom line is they save money. Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, Inc., a multinational producer of commercial interior products with more than $1 billion in sales, says his company has saved $67 million over a period of 3½ years by implementing an employee program aimed at eliminating waste. Business leaders can be found around the world in manufacturing and service industries that are addressing environmental sustainability with environmental policies, environmental management systems, and pollution prevention techniques.
The growing list includes other big and small, domestic and international Ford Motor, Monsanto, Boeing, Skanska, Ikea, Olland, and Companie Oleaginosa Uruguay SA.
does a Company Get Started?
businesses influence and partner with their major stakeholders employees,
vendors, suppliers, customers, stockholders. With strong senior management
commitment to culture change (were talking the magnitude of an "epiphany"),
sustainable businesses typically develop employee-driven quality systems
that meet their immediate customers needs with products and services
that are "in step" with broader ecological, economic, and societal
needs. This takes a good deal of two-way communication
with an environmental awareness raising event. Its important these
events engage the target audience at a personal level and present a compelling
business case for culture change. Participants will then make decisions
to commit themselves to action based on their own belief systems as well
as company goals. We recently assisted Beers Construction, a Skanska USA
Company, develop and roll out an environmental awareness program with astounding
the Company expects to recoup approximately $600,000 the first
year based on the programs success and employees commitment
to EMS implementation.
Why a Sustainable Business Strategy?
Opposite the epiphany, a more tragic reason sustainable development strategies are developed is in response to an environmental/liability crisis. For example, the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska sparked the development of enhanced emergency management procedures, a fundamental element of an environmental management system that attempts to meet ISO 14000 "prevention of pollution" standards.
In California, rapid population explosion, urban expansion, loss of open space and farmland, landfill shortages, severe traffic, increasing pollution, and lack of affordable housing triggered the Community Environmental Council to integrate sustainability into state planning since 1991.
In Atlanta, Georgia, similar environmental problems, including poor air quality and traffic congestion, deteriorate the quality of life and have caused some businesses to locate elsewhere. Business leaders are taking action the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce recently completed an
|initiative calling for enhanced environmental awareness and aspirations-based strategic planning to stir action on vital environmental quality issues.|
business strategies also emerge from anticipating future trends. Many experts
predict that the next wave of environmental legislation will be limits on
natural resource consumption. There is an evolving global movement for environmental
protection in legislation, agencies, and private institutions, ie. Agenda
21, United Nations Environment Program, and the World Business Council for
Sustainable Development. In Europe and South America, sustainable organizations
have been increasing and their environmental regulations already promote
sustainable business. Europes environmental protection laws increase
the demand for international sustainable strategies. The European Union
requires member countries to adhere to the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme
(EMAS), an environmental management system. One example of a sustainable
business strategy for manufacturers are extended product responsibility
these enable consumers or supply chain purchasers to return
old equipment for recycling, reuse or remanufacture when they purchase new
equipment. Has it ever bothered you to throw an old cell phone or appliance
in the trash? These "take-back" programs are now in place for
diverse industries, ranging from car parts to computers.
The success of sustainable strategies can be measured in the savings of raw materials and money. For example, when polymers are substituted for steel in automobiles and concrete in the construction industry, there are big savings in materials (European Commission 1992). The EC also found that new designs in products and services require 10% to 20% of the amount of raw materials currently required. Savings in natural resources and raw materials equal financial savings. The wave of voluntary and regulatory conformance to strict environmental standards can also be seen in the environmental charter signed by nine European manufacturers of PVC in Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium - virtually all the major producers in western Europe - which aims to reduce emissions of toxic vinyl chloride monomer in their processes (ENDS 1999).
Communities and businesses are applying sustainable practices more commonly. However, the blueprint for success is not generic. Similar companies and industries have common challenges. By forming associations within sectors, technology transfer and dialog increases the net benefit achieved by communities. The E7 international electricity utility group demonstrates sharing
"We have not inherited the Earth from our parents, we have borrowed it from our children"
|information is beneficial. Members of the E7 include Southern California Edison, Tokyo Electric Power Company, Eléctricité de France, ENEL Societa per Azioni, Hydro-Québec, Kansai Electric Power, Ontario Hydro, and RWE Energie AG of Essen. E7 develops and promotes international sustainable operations for electricity utilities. The E7 maintains goals of reducing environmental impacts; maximizing efficiency in production, transmission, distribution, and end use; maximizing renewable energies as a primary energy source; and finding new applications for electricity. The E7 Network of Expertise for the Global Environment acts as a pro-bono environmental, technical and industrial advisory group for electric utilities and governments by providing gratis services for more than thirty projects in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe countries. Skill seminars, training, environmental impact assessments, environmental auditing, and ISO 14000 workshops address critical needs.|
Sustainable business strategies are being implemented in a host of industries ranging from electricity to carpet manufacturing to automobiles to airplanes. The application of sustainable practices is spreading in the US and globally. According to the experts, we have a ways to go in the US a completely sustainable community with comprehensive and long-term environmental, social, and economic health and stability currently does not exist. For businesses to meet their current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do so, the time to begin is now. At the onset of the 21st Century, a competitive business will adapt to meet the changing needs of consumers for years to come.
Anderson, Ray C. Mid-Course Correction - Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model, 1998
Aspen Institute. 1998. Uncovering Value: Integrating Environmental and Financial Performance. The Aspen Institute: United States. http://www.aspeninst.org
Dominski, A., J. Clark, and J. Fox. 1992. Building the Sustainable City. Ed. J. Melcher. Community Environmental Council, Inc.
European Commission for the Fifth Programme of Policy and Action in Relation to the Environment and Sustainable Development "Towards Sustainability". 1992. Directorate General XI. http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg11/intro_en.htm
European PVC firms sign environmental charter. ENDS Daily. 09/02/99. http://www.ends.co.uk/envdaily
Lachman, B. 1997. Linking Sustainable Community Activities to Pollution Prevention: A Sourcebook. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR855.
Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our Common Future. Oxford