Sustainability – in the mix or front and centre?

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Sustainability in the mix or front and centre banner

We believe business shouldn’t just be about the traditional bottom line. In our model Stakeholder Engagement is a key part of the framework for being a successful, Mutable Business™. What does your organisation stand for? Is it changing the World? How does it impact the environment, your community, your marketplace? Where do you stand on inclusivity and diversity? What about governance? The sustainability topic touches all of these and more, but it’s complicated and hard (and what are you doing about it?).

First, there is no easy, accepted definition of sustainability. In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined it as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Second, it’s not just about Climate Change or your carbon footprint. The writing around the topic talks about the three pillars of sustainability being environmental, economic and social. John Elkington coined the term Triple Bottom Line (TBL) back in the 90s. By that he was explaining investment and business decisions in terms of People, Planet and Profit (3P, PPP) – a new, redefined bottom line.

Third, it’s complicated, complex and interconnected. It affects each of us, our commerce, our organisations, and our planet. We’ve been talking about it for decades but making slow progress. Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth put the spotlight on Global Warming back in 2006. Surface temperatures are rising by about 0.2 °C per decade, with 2020 reaching a temperature of 1.2 °C above the pre-industrial era. Climate change threatens people with food and water scarcity, increased flooding, extreme heat, more disease, and economic loss. Human migration and conflict can be a result. Developed countries are trying to shift away from oil and gas to renewable sources of energy. But energy is the engine of civilisation. Access to adequate and affordable sources is not equally distributed on the planet, and so it too is intertwined with the inequity of economic and social development. In 2015 all member states of United Nations agreed The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which lays out a blueprint with 17 Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs). The World’s got a plan, but are we on track?

Since 2020 we’ve experienced COVID-19, lockdowns, and new ways of working. We’ve seen apocalyptic wildfires in Australia, hurricanes in the Atlantic, flooding in China, and now the war in Ukraine. We’ve experienced dramatic consequences and seen just how hyper-connected and fragile the World economy and our global supply chains really are. Suddenly sustainability has come to the foreground. Its three pillars aren’t separate issues, they are interconnected across your organisation, your marketplace and the ecosystems you operate within. To address it you need a systems approach because there are so many moving parts, and because your goal is to do more with less. Where do you start?

Do you have a sustainability strategy, or is it considered as an integral dimension of planning, considered at every step of your strategy? Is someone responsible for it? In 2020 the number of Fortune 500 companies that have a Chief Sustainability Officer grew to 95. There will be more now. In 2019 almost 200 members of the Business Roundtable, all CEOs of major corporations signed a Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, with sustainability at its heart, committing to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders, not just shareholders. Sustainability is now a strategic business imperative.

What should you consider? Everything, but things like:

  • Your carbon footprint – set a date by which you’ll be carbon neutral, maybe in line with the Paris Agreement.
  • The energy intensity of your digital solutions – the power consumption of your data centre, cloud data centres, training of AI models, usage of big data, distributed ledger, transmission of data, use of IoT and edge computing.
  • Reviewing Supply Chains with trust and transparency – looking at materials, logistics, and packaging, including…
  • Removing use of single use plastics from your operations and your supplier’s operations
  • Designing electronics for resource efficiency and circularity to reduce the use of critical minerals
  • Shifting thinking from traditional manufacturing to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
  • Add in Rethink: what could be done differently? Refuse: are there any materials a designer would not use? Repair: can the product be repaired or repurposed instead of thrown away?
  • Create more resilient, sustainable infrastructure and operations with intelligent asset management, monitoring and predictive maintenance.
  • Extend the life of not just equipment, but buildings, bridges, water lines and other resources.
  • Innovative use of data analytics and AI to increase efficiency, effectiveness, reduce operation costs and improve experiences.
  • Constant reinvention to identify top challenges and opportunities across all of your business, prioritise critical actions, and measure outcomes against sustainability and business goals.

Doing all of this and more, you need to realise that all of your stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders. investors, business partners, advisors and the markets, media organisations and influencers you work with recognise the value and importance of the sustainable approach.

Here are some suggested resources to help you and your teams get educated and thinking:

What your organisation does touches nature, people and society. A Mutable Business™ needs to consider all of these impacts and possibilities in the continual process of planning, design, and execution of its purpose, mission and goals. In today’s complex world small things can cause massive outcomes. You can’t plan, but you can be prepared. Sustainability is here to stay. It’s good for the planet, it’s good for business, and it needs to be integrated in to your thinking every step of the way.

If you want help or to find out more contact us, and check back here for more.

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