More often than not, the idea of sustainability is confined to the environment or nature in general. While it’s true that many aspects of sustainability focus on preserving natural resources, it has a much more comprehensive range than people give it credit for. Far from being “only” an environmental idea, the concept of sustainability actually relies on four different areas of focus: human, economic, environmental, and social.
You are most accustomed to seeing environmental sustainability, as it’s one of the most critically important topics of our time, but what does “sustainable” mean when it comes to the human, economic and social aspects? We’ll examine these different concepts of sustainability in a minute, but first, we need to understand the bigger picture; Long-Term Sustainability.
At its simplest, sustainability is the concept of balancing the needs of the present without endangering the future. Long-term sustainability takes this concept and expands it to refer to the world of business, specifically how the idea of sustainability applies to companies.
This article will examine the idea of long-term sustainability and how businesses can start moving towards this goal! From sustainable business practices, to following social expectations and reducing their environmental impact, there are plenty of steps a company can take to become sustainable in the long term.
How’d We Get Here?
The first question that many people are probably asking is, “Why weren’t businesses already trying to be sustainable?” While there are a few things that we could point to, the biggest reason is plain and simple; time. Our modern world is built on the shoulders of The Industrial Revolution, meaning that many of our existing business practices began hundreds of years ago.
At the time, the Industrial Revolution propelled society forward, giving us technology and science that we previously hadn’t understood. All of that progress, however, came at the cost of significant environmental damage. By the time scientists realized what was going on, a lot of the damage was already done.
It’s a story that we see all across the globe, in almost every aspect of life. The use of fossil fuels shot humanity to new heights of travel and luxury while simultaneously stripping our planet of resources and pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Had sustainable business practices been the focus 100 years ago, we might be telling a different story, but here we are.
Where Do We Go Next?
Thankfully, not all hope is lost, and corporate social responsibility is the newest trend, which could mean we see some positive changes soon! Involving businesses in the fight for sustainability is crucial, as we likely won’t be able to make meaningful changes to our climate without the majority of companies worldwide helping out. A great first step is buying into the idea of long-term sustainability.
For companies, this means ensuring that the resources they use are managed intentionally by considering the future impact of current actions. For example, if a logging company clears their entire plot of trees in a single year, their business will likely close down soon after because they have no way to continue the job.
However, suppose they plan out their future using long-term sustainability practices, like replanting trees and responsible land management. In that case, they can ensure the safety of their business in the future. Though this is a simplistic example of long-term sustainability, it captures the main points effectively.
What Do We Need To Do
We could sit here and discuss the idea of long-term sustainability forever, but what steps do businesses actually need to take to become eco-friendly, “environmental” companies? Remember those four categories of sustainability that we talked about at the beginning of this article? These factors, otherwise known as the Pillars of Sustainability, are the best guide for businesses to follow to make their way towards long-term sustainability.
The first pillar of sustainability focuses on the human aspects of the concept. Through the Long-Term Sustainability lens, this pillar emphasizes the impact of your company’s actions on the rest of human society. To properly emphasize human sustainability within a company, you have to act as though the company itself is part of our society.
By doing this, you begin to view the company’s actions as something that can harm or help anyone, and when you begin to consider these possibilities, it can reveal a lot about a business.
Some Questions to Guide You: To help examine your own business’ human sustainability, try asking some of these questions:
- Does your company pay livable wages to everyone employed?
- Do the activities of your company take advantage of or negatively affect a community or population of people?
- Is there a work-life balance within the company?
The next pillar of sustainability is the most obvious one, at least in our opinion. Environmental sustainability refers mainly to the various natural resources a business uses and the tangible effects a business has on the environment. For example, if a company utilizes fossil fuels in their shipping, they are directly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn is contributing to a non-sustainable future.
To view the environmental impact of a company, you have to look up and down the entire supply chain to see what actions are sustainable and what needs to change.
Some Questions to Guide You:
- Do the products or services of your company have an impact on the area around your company (e.g., your company’s production plant impacts the water quality of a nearby river)
- What natural resources does your company utilize? Can it be replaced with something more sustainable?
- Has your company taken any steps towards becoming carbon neutral?
Social and Economic
The final two pillars can be grouped together in some ways, as they both relate heavily to our society rather than the world around us. The goals of social and economic sustainability are to improve communities by giving back, maintain and increase the quality of life, and promote social and economic equality.
Social sustainability is mainly based on sustainable development, a concept defined by the United Nations that targets sustainability goals for our future. From sustainable practices in the corporate world to emphasizing renewable energy like wind and solar power, the sustainable development plan shows us a society that’s possible in the future. Economically, much is the same, as sustainability is based on creating an equal and livable future for everyone.
Some Questions to Guide You:
- Is your company involved in any local communities, and how so?
- Does your company actively make improvements that positively affect the environment?
- If your company is successful, is the success only for the CEO, or does the entire company benefit?
A Green Business Future
Sustainability is complex and interwoven into all aspects of our lives, so it’s no wonder it’s becoming a more prominent topic of conversation recently. Here at Manifest Commerce, we’re doing our part by redesigning the shipping industry and making it green from top to bottom!
Check out how we can accomplish this and other forms of sustainability on our blog, or reach out today to get your company partnered with Manifest! Together we can start to shift climate change for the better!