What IS Sustainability – and What’s All the Fuss About Anyway?


Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts designed to give you an introduction to the world of sustainability and take you through the rationale, methods, best practices and reasons why you should get involved.

And, how you create an ROI!

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What IS sustainability – and what’s all the fuss about anyway?

I’ll be upfront and admit that I’m no academic when it comes to sustainability, which I’ve become more and more involved with over the last few years. But fortunately, I’ve discovered that it really isn’t rocket science!

I suppose it was when the U.S. Government introduced the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, as a result of large corporate accounting scandals including Enron and Worldcom, that I first became aware of sustainability principles.

‘The demand for openness is greater than ever…’

Sarbanes-Oxley shone a light on a complete lack of transparency and accountability by many large companies. It also prompted a demand from shareholders for greater corporate scrutiny and openness. Fast forward to today, and this demand is greater than ever.

Now companies are under pressure not just from shareholders, employees and stakeholders, but also from customers, public pressure groups and legislators. Areas of concern have widened to include the environment, ethics, people’s welfare, supplier sourcing and much more, in part driven by generation X, Y and millennials and the huge influence they hold through social media.

In a nutshell, corporate responsibility has been overtaken by the need for companies to be more ‘sustainable’ and think longer term.

So, just what IS sustainability?

Jonathon Porritt, the highly regarded UK environmentalist, once said:

“Something is sustainable if you can carry on doing it indefinitely. If you can’t, it isn’t.”

It’s a simple but very effective rule of thumb!

Another way of looking at sustainability is through the ‘3 Ps’:

  • support for the PEOPLE we connect with;
  • respect for the PLANET on which we depend;
  • and the need to earn a PROFIT to pay for our endeavours.

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In fact these simple, common sense principles already form a bedrock for many successful, well-known businesses.

And while companies which fail to recognise the importance of sustainability could be putting themselves at risk from reputational damage, legal threats and severe financial consequences, there is a huge positive impact for those which voluntarily embrace sustainability best practices and make them work.

‘Reputations are frequently more important than price…’

In today’s new ultra-competitive, ultra-connected world, company reputations are frequently more important than price when it comes to consumer choice, critical for attracting and retaining the right staff, and successful CEOs are judged on far more than financial performance alone.

So to my mind, sustainability principles really are just common sense activities undertaken across all elements of a company’s business.

That’s why sustainability is rapidly becoming a ‘business as usual’ way of thinking.

A requirement for greater transparency from stakeholders, staff and customers, linked to a growth in worldwide legislation, is making sustainability best practice ‘a must do’!

Check out this interesting video introduction to sustainability:

Stay tuned for my next post in about two weeks: How does sustainability relate to business travel? If you can’t wait until then and want to learn more now, visit our Project ICARUS website.

I welcome your views and comments. Please feel free to comment below or email me at bharrop@gbtafoundation.org.

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