In this five part series on sustainability, we will explore what it means to be sustainable in the twenty-first century, why it has become such a hot topic issue, and what the implications are for all things sustainability going forward.
What is sustainability? Although diverse definitions exist, a solid explanation would be a future outlook based on the present. That is, even though we may function in the present, we are mindful about our actions and their corresponding future outcomes. Mindfulness is a key word here. Although mindfulness is often cited as being in the present moment, a more circumspect definition says that the successes of the future are being established right now.
What does it mean to be sustainable in the twenty-first century? Is it the much-vaunted three Rs of corporate and personal responsibility; i.e. reduce, re-use and recycle? Possibly, but the definition encapsulates much, much more. From a corporate point of view, this may include things such as switching to more greener sources of fuel, the responsible and ethical sourcing of raw material, and increasing green awareness amongst employees. Amongst individuals, this could include thing such as eating seasonal food that require less storage and preservatives, choosing planet-friendly transportation, such as cycling or public transport, and spreading awareness amongst peers about their activities.
And sustainability is not just linked to environmental issues. From managing human relationships in order to ensure their long-term viability, to prudently managing a company’s finances for long-term growth and facilitating effective dialogue with regulatory bodies; sustainability is concerned with the prolonged long-term well-being of a wide range of individuals.
And this inevitably brings us back to the all-important point of view that sustainability is intrinsically linked to good governance in any organisation. As such it is not merely a touch-and-go cosmetic reference point. The sustainable aspect of a business is about running operations so as to guarantee success for both present and future generations.
Concern Amidst Chaos
With that in mind, you may ask why sustainability has become such an issue of concern? Firstly, global warming is on the rise, and 97% of climate scientists stand strongly behind this claim. This pressing ecological issue brings with it a whole host of problems. Geographic and climatic changes such as changing weather patterns, more extreme weather events, changes in the seasonal migrations of important pollinators and animals, along with the mass displacement of peoples brought about by adverse weather events are sending shock-waves throughout the world. And when you consider the fact that global warming is chiefly brought about by the combustion of fossil fuels, and that this combustion is disproportionately linked to only a handful of countries, sustainability is to be featured on the social, moral and political agenda for a very long time.
Finally, what are the implications behind this increased stress on sustainability? For a start, businesses and organisations will be under increasing scrutiny by regulatory bodies and institutions. This pushes companies to adopt sustainable attitudes, such as by becoming carbon neutral, verifying that their labour is sourced ethically or setting aside a certain portion of their budget towards charitable activities. Continual audits are also a feature of these new developments, and this now stretches to the organisations doing the monitoring themselves.
To conclude, as a wise man once said, the only future worth building is one that includes everyone. And sustainability just happens to be at the cornerstone of that.
In the articles to come, we will be looking at the GRI standards and sustainability, some important case studies of corporates and their sustainability agendas, the takeaways on sustainability for corporate communications professionals, and finally; the future outlook for sustainability.