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What is corporate sustainability and why is it important?

We explore what is meant by corporate sustainability, as well as its importance for both the planet and your business.

Corporate Sustainability

Sustainability is one of the most pressing issues in the world at the moment. As we’re facing a climate catastrophe, many of us are seeking out ways we can reduce our impact on the environment. However, making a difference and employing sustainability tactics isn’t just for environmentally-conscious individuals; companies and businesses should also prioritise the planet.

In this article, we will discuss what corporate sustainability is along with a sustainability definition, explore why corporate sustainability is important and suggest a guide to assist you in making your own corporate sustainability plan for your business. 

What does corporate sustainability mean?

Let’s start off with the basics; what is corporate sustainability? We can define corporate sustainability as the strategy whereby a business delivers its goods and services in a manner that is both environmentally sustainable and supports its economic growth. Corporate sustainability prioritises long-term growth through sustainable methods as opposed to focussing on short-term financial gains. 

By implementing a corporate sustainability strategy, your business should be committing to using natural resources responsibly, investing for the long-term wellbeing of the planet and ensuring that all people involved in your business process are treated fairly. 

This idea was born from the concept of sustainable development, which is growth and development that meets the current needs of today without compromising any natural resources that future generations depend on. 

What is sustainability? 

We will be discussing sustainability a lot throughout this article, as it is the most important component to a corporate sustainability strategy, so let’s lay out a definition. To sustain something means to support and aid something to help keep it maintained. 

As we discussed in our what does sustainability mean article, the term sustainability is an approach to sustaining life and supporting our planet. As a practice, this involves acting in a manner that preserves the Earth’s natural resources whilst still meeting the present needs of today. 

When discussing sustainability, there is more to think about than just environmental issues. Sustainability can be broken down into three parts, often referred to as the three pillars of sustainability; environmental, economic, and social. Ideally, a sustainable business will take all pillars into account to create a sustainability plan. 

For a more in-depth look at what sustainability is, check out our introduction to sustainability and development course. We’ll discuss some of the environmental threats that make sustainability so essential later on in this article. 

Corporate sustainability vs corporate social responsibility

Both of these terms are buzzwords in regards to business ethics, and although they seem similar, the terms are very different – in fact, corporate sustainability falls under the term corporate social responsibility. We’ve already outlined corporate sustainability, but what is corporate social responsibility?

Whilst corporate sustainability is the strategy or plan carried out in order to achieve business objectives in an environmentally friendly way, corporate social responsibility is a broader term.

Corporate social responsibility is a type of self-regulation method within business plans to ensure that all efforts are made to leave a positive impact through its activities. It is often focused on what a company has already achieved in sustainability efforts, whereas corporate sustainability is all about what can be done in the future. 

Why is corporate sustainability important? 

So, why is it so vital to incorporate sustainability in your business? It can be difficult to imagine the impact that these values can have on a larger scale, so let’s explore the importance of corporate sustainability. 

Environmental benefits

As a planet, we have numerous environmental issues to overcome so that we can protect our home and keep it safe for future generations. This is only achievable with everyone doing their part; the collective efforts of people and businesses around the world can reduce harmful threats and extend Earth’s longevity. 

The concept of sustainability acknowledges that the Earth’s resources are limited, and aims to conquer the overuse of said resources. With the collective efforts of the environmentally conscious, we’ll be able to preserve resources for future generations.

Let’s look at just a few of the environmental issues facing our planet: 

Climate change 

Inclusive of the hot topic of global warming, climate change is the long-term shift in average temperature and weather conditions (such as rainfall) over an extended period of time. 

Sadly, climate change is a result of human behaviour, and greenhouse gases are largely responsible for the increasing temperature of our planet. Effects of these high temperatures include loss of arctic ice and sea levels rising, which has huge negative impacts on wildlife. 

Pollution 

This is the introduction of harmful or poisonous substances into the natural environment, and comes in different forms. These include air pollution, land pollution and water pollution. 

When a natural environment is polluted, it becomes harmful to those living within the environment. Air pollution can be dangerous as it can impede breathing for ourselves and wildlife. Land pollution can cause harm to wildlife too, as it often leads to animals ingesting harmful substances. 

Biodiversity loss

Central to the planet’s survival, biodiversity is the variety of all living things on Earth, from animals to microorganisms and the environment they co-exist in.
As we explored in our extinction prevention article, the beings that come together to form biodiverse ecosystems are crucial for the survival of our planet. Human intervention has put the biodiversity of our planet at risk of loss, with things like deforestation and plastic pollution dwindling species numbers. 

As you can see, there’s a lot to tackle when it comes to protecting the planet, so doing your part and prioritising business sustainability can have a huge impact.

Business benefits 

The main aim should always be to protect the environment and reduce the carbon footprint of your business. However, being environmentally conscious goes hand in hand with business success and economic growth. 

Investors

With sustainability awareness on the rise, a sustainable business is particularly appealing to potential investors. By incorporating sustainable elements into your business strategy, you’ll be able to attract new investors to fund your business ventures. 

Impact investing is steadily becoming more prominent. These impact investments are those that are made with positive environmental impact in mind, alongside investing for financial gain. 

With this in mind, it only makes sense that striving to leave a positive social and environmental impact will, in turn, increase investment opportunities within your business and push your economic growth.  

Customers

Perhaps the most important aspect is the wants and needs of your customer base. Most people want the best for our planet, and a business being sustainable can make or break a person’s desire to use products and services. 

Committing to pursue an environmentally friendly strategy to achieve your business goals will appeal to customers and show that your business cares, building the public’s trust. If someone doesn’t agree with your company’s ethics and practices, you could be missing out on their business altogether. 

In fact, a recent survey revealed that 75% of millennials are willing to spend more on a product if it is environmentally sustainable. The same study found that 77% of Americans are concerned about the environmental impact of their products. 

Clearly, the demand for sustainability is high, so not only is a corporate sustainability plan great for the planet, but it could also be vital to your business proposition. 

Examples of corporate sustainability

Many companies are already making huge meaningful changes with their initiatives and values. In fact, a lot of companies have built their brand specifically around sustainability, and have thrived as a result. Let’s look at some amazing companies that are doing their bit and building strong sustainability plans: 

Quorn 

Providing plant-based meat alternatives is one of the most sustainable things a company in the food industry can do – and that’s exactly what Quorn does. Agricultural work is one of the biggest contributors to climate change and pollution; according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, agricultural activities make up 17% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

As well as combatting agricultural issues, Quorn has a very strong set of sustainability goals, which include achieving net-zero emissions within its own operations by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions across the whole supply chain by 2050. 

Lego

This company has provided iconic building block toys for both children and adults since 1962. Since the company is built on selling plastic products, it may come as a shock to find out that they have made leaps and bounds in sustainability and have a great set of sustainability goals.

Lego has already made some great improvements in the form of donating to offshore wind farms, developing plans to make their bricks sustainable and improving the energy efficiency of Lego brick production by over 12% per brick.

The company’s current sustainability goals include making all core products from sustainable materials by 2030 and aiming to have zero waste go to landfill by 2025. They also have a ‘replay’ scheme whereby customers can donate used bricks to children in need as opposed to disposing of them via waste. 

Microsoft

Known for providing a wide range of computers and computer software, Microsoft is a multinational technology company. They have made some great strides in sustainability in recent years, including diverting over 60,000 metric tons of waste from landfills and funding 20 different water replenishment projects in 2020.

Microsoft’s current sustainability goals include becoming completely carbon negative and producing zero waste by 2030, and building the planetary computer. This revolutionary computing platform will utilise global environmental data and artificial intelligence to provide practical information for sustainability insights.

How to form a corporate sustainability plan 

Now that we know just how important corporate sustainability is, let’s get you started on your sustainable business journey. How can you implement a corporate sustainability strategy within your own business?

As we mentioned earlier, there are three pillars to sustainability, and all must be addressed to form a successful business sustainability plan. Let’s look at what things you should consider when working to address the three pillars of sustainability: 

Environmental sustainability

We’ve discussed environmental issues quite a lot throughout this article, as it’s such a huge issue for the planet at the moment. To address environmental issues, you should lay out plans that reduce packaging waste, carbon footprint and water usage. A great example is Microsoft committing to a net-zero water facility at their Silicon Valley campus.

You should aim to implement these changes throughout your supply chain and not just within your own company’s facilities. Defining a number or percentage that your company will achieve is the best way to show your customers that you’re committed to making a change. 

Perhaps the best way to begin your sustainability journey is to develop your sustainability knowledge and gain a better understanding of the impact you could have. We have a wide range of sustainability courses to get you started, such as our Social Impact in Business: How to Build a Brand that Matters course. 

Social sustainability

The social pillar of sustainability is all about your company’s impact on people, including employees, customers and local communities. A socially sustainable company will take into account equal opportunities, diversity, human rights, and ethical labour. 

To make sure that your company is meeting social sustainability needs, you can aim to offer equal opportunities in the form of aiming to meet a certain percentage of gender distribution within your staff numbers. Another important social sustainability goal could be to ensure that all those involved within the supply chain are given a fair living wage. 

Ben & Jerry’s is a company that works hard to achieve social sustainability in the form of giving back to communities. Their community involvement includes a grant program that allows employees to support local organisations within the communities that they live and work in. 

Employees are also given time each year to work together to fix, clean, build and refresh things that will improve the local quality of life via large-scale community projects. 

Economical sustainability

This pillar focuses on generating economic growth in a way that does not cause negative cultural, social and environmental impacts. This is done by reducing or stopping the use of finite resources within your company, all while maintaining transparency with the public.

The ideal economic strategy would increase revenue along with reducing carbon footprint at the same time. A great plan of action to address economic sustainability is to switch from using fossil fuels to renewable energy – although this can be done gradually if it makes more economic sense. 

To learn more about how your company can have a positive impact, check out our How to Measure, Reduce, and Offset your Company’s Carbon Footprint course. 

Once you’ve done your research and decided what values matter most to your company, you can form a list of goals that tackle each section of sustainability. Your goals should be achievable and address issues that your company cares about. 

Final thoughts 

Protecting our planet for future generations is vital, and corporate sustainability is a must for growing a successful business that nurtures planet preservation. We hope that this article has developed your understanding of what it means to be a sustainable business, and equipped you with some ideas for implementing sustainable business practices yourself. 

If you are interested in expanding your knowledge, why not delve into our organising for the sustainable development goals course?

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