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What does it mean to be a sustainable business?

Discussing the fundamentals of what it means to be a sustainable business, and the social and environmental impacts they play.
being a sustainable business
© RMIT University 2017

The fundamental role of a sustainable business is to benefit society by value-adding products and services. But what motivates a business to change? And will businesses ever try as hard for triple top line, as they do for the triple bottom line?

Businesses are looking for a balance between cost and reward. But are they ready to view reward as a multi-dimensional concept in which layers of sustainability align with monetary reward?

Nowadays, most governments recognise the social and environmental impacts of business. Pressure exerted on the business community, means business executives are well aware of their corporate social responsibilities, They recognise that their actions should move toward more green enterprises. If we treat the environment without proper consideration and abuse natural resources without adopting a long-term focus we will ensure our own destruction.

The words “long-term” make the real difference between being environmentally friendly (not being harmful to the environment) and being sustainable. Any business needs to supply services or products that are environmentally friendly. However, their practices should go beyond the use of recycled paper or the bottom line of an email saying, ‘do not kill a tree’. For a business to be sustainable, its approach needs to be strategically planned. Principles of sustainability need to be incorporated into each business decision. In other words, to reach the status of ‘sustainable business’, the strategy must be to develop a highly committed and capable workforce using cultural, structural and personnel techniques.

Let’s consider this in the context of the global fashion industry, known for its catwalk inspiration and celebrity inspired trends. The fast fashion industry has taken the world by storm. Fashion production used to be based on four annual seasons, but this has changed to a 52-week constant churn. This is great for consumers wanting cheaper clothes with a design aesthetic and to be on trend. But factors like where, how and when fashion garments and shoes are produced, impacts people and the environment. It has important implications for how corporations meet social responsibility standards and reduce their impact on the planet.

What does this have to do with HR? We are going to explore the role of green HR over the coming weeks, through the lens of the fashion industry. Why the fashion industry? The fashion industry raises a number of complex issues about human and environmental sustainable business practices. The fashion industry often relies on a predominantly female workforce in developing countries to make the fashion garments and shoes that sell around the world. Global fashion brands invest in building their brand recognition and reputation, but incidences of sweatshop conditions and environmental degradation are not uncommon. Therefore it’s important to think about how the fashion industry can become ethical and sustainable. Examples from the fashion industry can help us explore what is green HR and to develop new insights about what makes a sustainable organisation.

The broader thinking around what makes a business sustainable and what are the essential features of sustainable business practices are an important first step towards understanding what drives business to change.

Motivations for businesses becoming sustainable are moving beyond being good for our planet to include how businesses place the highest value on the human capital necessary to produce their products and services. Many businesses are now realising that sustainable practice is good for stakeholder relationships – it builds trust amongst consumers and it values people.

Now you have some understanding of the concept of sustainability you can explore this a little further.
Ethical Clothing Australia work to ensure that a company’s supply chain is ethical according to treating workers with respect.
The Social Outfit is a company that is accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia. Take look at their website, especially the “about us” section. Once you have a reasonably good idea about its background consider the following question:
What are some of the key features of The Social Outfit that indicate sustainable business practices? Draw on specific examples observed from the company’s website or other sources of information (e.g. Google search).
Please share your thoughts on the following question by posting a Comments in the area below.
© RMIT University 2017
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Business Futures: Sustainable Business Through Green HR

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