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Rhetoric or real sustainability?
Rhetoric or real sustainability?

Rhetoric or real sustainability?

Sustainable goals and targets have been proposed to address poverty, discrimination (inequality) or environmental abuse in the next two decades (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals). These universal goals will not be reached by a single institution or country, but rather must be the result of a strong partnership between all humans from every country as inhabitants of the same world.

In this light, organisations will seek to build their reputation and public image by contributing to these goals; obviously, always within and in accordance to their economic profit-based framework. Organisations are required to develop sustainable strategies that are simultaneously focused on internal and external factors.

For the external context, they have to comply with concepts such as pollution standards (increasing the air quality index), waste disposal regulations, installation of renewable energy sources and reduction of service energy consumption.

Internal aspects include, for example, the increased percentage of recyclable materials adopted, the availability of employee training, a diverse workforce, or even health and social insurances and employee benefits offered by the organisation.

These human and ecological capabilities of an organisation have become critical performance indicators. Therefore, setting clear sustainable goals and demonstrating that these targets have been met is crucial for all businesses. Such goals are presented to the public and constantly reviewed by authorities through a well-functioning reporting system. This is why writing reliable and valid reports is now fundamental for an organisation’s reputation and image.

One potential issue can be the need for these organisations to display their sustainable commitment, in both internal and external contexts, despite their true capacity. In other words, in the name of necessity, sometimes they are “highly tempted” to change or misrepresent their “reality”. As a result, some practices can be dressed up as sustainable actions even though they may not be particularly oriented to social or environmental reform.

The phenomenon of sharing a company’s good intentions or promises with the general public, when they don’t reflect authentic practices or procedures, is called rhetoric. History is full of examples of such misleading information, from L’oreal through to Nike up to the Bush Administration’s science policy on climate change that has been considered an entirely politicised action.

Consider what real sustainability looks like.


Have you have recently engaged with a sustainable business? What sustainability practices demonstrated to you that they were a sustainable business?

Alternatively, do some web research to find a business engaged in sustainable business practices and identify practices that demonstrate that they are a sustainable business.

Post the business’ link along, with the factors you think demonstrate sustainable business practices, in the Comments area.

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This article is from the free online course:

Business Futures: Sustainable Business Through Green HR

RMIT University