Even the Finance Guys Get It

The Business Case for Sustainability

We need a new, expanded definition of sustainability.

It’s no longer about just the environment. It’s about building corporate cultures, nurturing human capital, and improving the bottom line.

The number one opportunity and challenge for today’s business owner is recruiting and retaining the very best people. Today’s businesses are people businesses, and rise and fall on their aptitudes and attitudes. An individual’s loyalty, trust and commitment are won and maintained by faith in your organization and its culture: do you foster commitment, empowerment, lifelong learning and long-term sustainable business practices? If not, they’ll take all your valuable training and move on to someone else who does.

21st Century Sustainability. It’s more than green-ness and environmentalism. It’s communications-intensive and interdisciplinary, permeating organizations across silos and departments. It’s teamwork and collaboration. And it’s a “have to do” for many successful businesses, not just a “nice to do.” When the accountants jump on the sustainability bandwagon, you know you’ve moved beyond business as usual.

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In my book and media curriculum, “Sustainable Solutions: The Business of Green,” I describe this evolved sustainability as possessing five key attributes:

It’s Measurable. It’s no longer just theory. Sustainable solutions can be calculated: in dollars earned, time saved, kilowatts shaved, waste reduced.

It’s Systemic.  This is the opposite of silos. Sustainable solutions demand systems-oriented thinking and high-functioning teams. Modern sustainability will impact manufacturing, finance, operations management, supply chain management, human resources, marketing, and even investor relationships — all of which must interrelate, synthesize, and evolve in concert.

It’s Sellable. Gone are worries of “greenwashing.” You just have to back up what you say. Sustainably-focused organizations are gaining measurable competitive advantages over their less-green competitors. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) helps companies attract investors and quality employees. And a new generation of eco-consumers are factoring “green” into their purchasing decisions.

It’s Teachable. Sustainability is based on behavior change, not just technical innovation. Sustainable businesses are learning businesses, committed to continuing education, skills development, and social marketing.

It’s Humanizing. Perhaps best of all, 21st Century Sustainability is people-centric. Healthy environments, sensitive sourcing, corporate transparency, empowered employees — all create  and sustain human capital, the engine of our collective success.