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Why Sustainability Matters

Sustainability is everywhere. Governments, organisations, businesses and individuals across the globe are focusing on sustainability like never before, but what does it actually mean?

In this post, Joe Oughtred, co-founder of Axiom Consultancy explores the concept of sustainability. We look at what it is, what it includes and why sustainability matters to organisations in the UK and around the world.

What is Sustainability?

The concept of sustainability first emerged in 1970s and was later popularised by the Brundtland Report, a 1987 document published by the United Nations’ World Commission on Environment and Development. It brought focus to the impact our consumption patterns and economic advancement has on the environment and natural resources.

The report defines Sustainability as:

“economic development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

Sustainability is now a global concept that has implications for governments, organisations, and society. Embedded within sustainability is the need to achieve a balance between economic growth, social advancement, and environmental protection.

Why is Sustainability Important?

Sustainability is about building for a successful future. It’s about acknowledging that every human-being is entitled to grow and prosper.

Unless we embrace sustainability, maintaining the planet’s natural systems, diversity and achieving an acceptable quality of life for every generation will become increasingly difficult.

The concept of sustainability is built on three dimensions:

  1. Environmental protection

  2. Social advancement

  3. Economic prosperity

It is important to understand that these three elements are interrelated. Part of any effective sustainability programme is understanding how these relate to each other. It’s also about how to strike the right balance between them.

Why Sustainability Matters – Environmental Protection

We all need to protect the environment, and our interactions with the environment should be sustainable.

In the context of sustainability, environmental protection is all about the efficient use of natural resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and minimising carbon footprints.

Organisations must define their commitment to the natural environment. In practice, this means:

  • Protecting and restoring the environment

  • Promoting sustainable development of products, processes, and services

  • Minimising the use of natural resources

  • Reducing waste and emissions

  • Complying with local, national, and international regulations.

It is crucial that the natural resources for future generations are not compromised. To achieve this, organisations should embed resource reduction strategies in their day-to-day operations. Reduction activities such as energy consumption, packaging use or waste are likely to translate into a win-win outcome that helps both the environment and organisational performance.

Why Sustainability Matters – Social Advancement

The Social aspect of sustainability is focused on deploying equitable and fair practices that facilitate social advancement and societal growth.

From an organisational perspective, the focus is maintaining ethical standards and giving back to the community. Sustainability strives to achieve the advancement of people and society in general. This pillar measures the ability of an organisation to focus on issues that are important to its workforce, customers, and society.

Workforce related issues include:

  • Health and safety

  • Training and development

  • Diversity and opportunity

  • Quality of employment

Customer related issues include:

  • Clear product labelling

  • Accurate product information

  • Impact of product on health and safety

Social related issues include:

  • Human rights

  • Impact on local communities

To achieve lasting solutions, organisations need to balance social sustainability approaches against several different perspectives. It is important to realise that the concerns and priorities for different stakeholders are interconnected. A change for one stakeholder group will affect all the others in terms of expectations, needs, motivations, and behaviours.

Why Sustainability Matters – Economic Prosperity

The economic pillar of sustainability is about developing and maintaining a sound economic system that also facilitates organisational growth and human independence.

For organisations, the focus is on the contribution it makes to the wider economy and the overall economic value it creates. The economic pillar is not about profit at any cost. Instead, it’s about how the organisation approaches governance and risk mitigation – and establishing an equilibrium between ethics and profit.

As part of this balanced approach, organisations need to implement initiatives that are financially sustainable. In practical terms, the economic pillar allows the organisation to deploy sustainability plans at an incremental and cost-effective manner.

From a human viewpoint, the focus is on the ability of people to access economic resources they require to secure their livelihoods and satisfy their needs. People should have their independence supported with the right economic systems. The economic pillar is central to the concept of sustainability and its long-term success. Human communities across the globe can maintain their independence and have access to the resources that they require supported by robust economic mechanisms.

The Future of Sustainability

Sustainability is here to stay. The three pillars help ensure the concept of sustainability is easily understood and implementable, and meeting the objectives these pillars ensures the future is bright for both humans, organisations and the planet.

As a result, we are beginning to see the linear economy being replaced by the circular economy. We can see the emergence of new technologies driving the acceleration towards a more sustainable future and to help solve the climate crisis.

To keep this momentum, every organisation should ensure that its consumption of resources does not outpace the rate of regeneration, its emissions don’t exceed what the environment can absorb, and its use of non-renewable resources is below the rate at which renewable sources are developed.

About the Contributor:

Joe Oughtred is the co-founder of Axiom, a consultancy that specialises in sustainability and supply chains underpinned by a powerful cloud-based platform that helps businesses monitor, analyse and improve sustainability performance.


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