Three Key Forces for Sustainability

Our world is in the midst of a transformation that will forever change many of our living, working and financial practices. We are facing unprecedented economic realities. Companies have already cut costs in the usual way. The workforce has been slashed along with budgets for travel, equipment and training. Struggling business units have been divested or closed. Now it’s time for something new. Forward-thinking organizations are finding opportunities for innovation, expansion and market leadership by integrating sustainability into their strategies and practices. They are finding benefits in places that they haven’t looked before.

In addition to the shifting economic challenges, there are two other growing forces requiring a different business model. They are environmental and social issues and stakeholder pressure.

Social and environmental factors are constraining business operations and are threatening the state of our planet. The toll on our environment is tremendous. We face global warming, water shortages, species extinction, toxic chemical exposure and more as we continue to pollute the earth and strip it of its natural resources. Environmental issues can wreak havoc on a company’s reputation, market position and bottom line. In addition, nearly half of the world’s population is living on less than $2 a day. Those at the “base of the pyramid” are considered by many progressive organizations to be a market ripe for innovation and new business models, while at the same time helping many to move out of poverty. Intel and Microsoft have emerging market divisions focusing on this economic segment.

The third force is that multiple stakeholders are exerting pressure on organizations and communities to operate more responsibly. People are far more educated and aware of the environmental and social impact on our world. Since 1990, more than 100,000 new citizen groups have appeared on the internet. With blogs, wikis and networking sites like Facebook and YouTube, everyone can be a journalist. Research can be done quickly and easily, and the information can be controversial and contradictory. Consumers are seeking products that are made in a sustainable way and are more interested in how companies treat their employees and participate in communities they do business in. Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) are avid activists for change. Regulatory agencies are getting pressured by constituents, and are in turn implementing regulations for business to treat people and the earth responsibly. Employees don’t want to be associated with irresponsible organizations and will vote with their feet while investors are increasingly voting with their money when they view an organization’s track record on corporate social responsibility.

So, not only are societies, the environment and stakeholders demanding this, but it can actually be incredibly good for business to adopt more sustainable practices. In the words of Peter Drucker “Every single social and global issue of our day is a business opportunity in disguise.” What opportunities exist for your organization?

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