Sustainability is a commonly misunderstood term and is frequently equated to environmental awareness, but it is much broader than that. “Green” is a color, not an ambiguous concept!
LESSONS FROM MY DAD
Sustainability could be simply defined as the capacity to endure. But for me, the meaning is more personal and began in my childhood when my dad and I would spend time outdoors. While teaching me to appreciate nature, respect the environment, and exist in harmony with it, both he and my mother also instilled in me to work hard, do your best, respect others, lend a hand, and be fair. My parents taught me to think about how to make the best decisions each and every day! To me, this way of thinking is what makes a business sustainable, and it becomes part of who we are and what we do.
Laura D’Ardenne and her father.
The elements of a triple bottom line.
It may sound old fashioned and bring us back to simpler Leave it to Beaver times, but I think this applies to any person, time, or place. And it certainly should guide how we act in our professional lives as employees or executives running a company.
SUSTAINABILITY IN BUSINESS
From a business standpoint, you could define sustainability in terms of development. The Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future (Brundtland Report) says that sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable businesses are typically identified as ones that impart positive effects on the environment and the community; yet often, these organizations omit any reference to economic prosperity or the bottom line. This is an unbalanced approach—if you are a for-profit business it’s ok (and imperative) to address the bottom line!
The Triple Bottom Line (TBL), which is commonly used when defining sustainability, addresses the social and environmental performance, as well as the economic performance of your business. It means you consider all aspects in your decision making and not at the expense of one or the other. This allows a company to manage all their risks, obligations, and opportunities. After all, CEOs, CFOs and COOs are ultimately striving for long-term growth and profitability while including social and environmental performance in their business model. This is both smart and sustainable.
Thinking in these terms, we must ask
- How can we responsibly create value for our partners and shareholders?
- Can we do more with less without compromising safety, integrity, and the quality of our work?
- How can we create a positive impact and increase efficiencies with our time, resources, and dollars?
To address these questions is to embrace sustainability. I’ll be exploring these, and many other topics, in future blogs.