From the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go back to sleep at night, a wise decision related to the environment can be made. This can either be the coffee you drink in the morning to the lights you turn off at night there are choices to be made that have far-reaching consequences on our society, economy, and on the environment both at the local and the global scale. Tagged along are the terms sustainability, sustainable development and corporate social responsibility.
Let’s begin with the definition of sustainable development. The Brundtland Commission, led by the former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. From resource consumption viewpoint, one way of simplifying this definition implies using resources more efficiently and ensuring that our future generations have ample resources for themselves.
A simple example of an environmentally sustainable practice can be retrofitting incandescent lamp with energy efficient compact fluorescent lamp (CFL), also known as compact fluorescent light bulb. The CFL can replace an incandescent lamp, use less energy and have a longer rated life. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy’s joint program ENERGY STAR qualifies bulbs to the program that use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. The bulbs can save about $30 or more in electricity costs over each bulb’s lifetime and produce about 75 percent less heat, so they’re safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling. Reduced energy consumption can lead to lesser emissions of greenhouse gases to the environment. This example explains how corporations are offering innovative products and helping to reduce the environmental impact. A cleaner environment today and for future generations is one of the critical aspects of sustainable development.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR):
CSR evolved from the definition of sustainable development and the concept of the Triple Bottom Line (TBL). The TBL concept developed by John Elkington (1999) proposed that business goals were inseparable from the societies and environments within which they operate. A business can achieve short-term economic gain, but a failure to account for social and environmental dimensions would result in making those business practices unsustainable.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) defined CSR as “The commitment of business to contribute to sustainable economic development, working with employees, their families, the local community and society at large to improve their quality of life”. Numerous corporations in North America and globally have embraced sustainable development and are developing innovative environmental programs that are integrated with core business operations and practices. Just as a consumer can benefit financially by retrofitting to a CFL and contribute to the sustainability of the environment, corporations can similarly benefit financially by pursuing sustainable business practices. Innovative technologies and changing internal processes will not only decrease the ecological footprint of the corporations by contributing to environmental sustainability but also make good financial sense.
Why pursue the sustainability path?
Pursuing sustainability demonstrates commitment and leadership towards environmental stewardship and there’s a business case for pursuing sustainable development. Bob Willard; a leading corporate sustainability strategies expert and author of The Sustainability Advantage: Seven Business Case Benefits of a Triple Bottom Line (New Society Publishers, 2002); describes the benefits of investing in sustainable development. These seven benefits include reducing hiring and retention costs and improving productivity, decreasing manufacturing and operating expenses, increasing revenue, and reducing risk.
Corporate social responsibility is a continuously evolving innovative discipline. In order to create maximum value for stakeholders at all levels, progress towards sustainability needs to be monitored, measured and communicated. To pursue sustainability, a corporation must improve its environmental performance through improved operational processes. Improved operational processes will eventually yield a healthy economy and society. Thus, being corporately responsible will allow corporations to fully capture the economic opportunities associated with pursuing sustainability.
Sources: Frost & Sullivan, Environmental Leader & WIH Resource Group
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