Is Corporate Sustainability Sustainable?
Is corporate sustainability sustainable in the long run?
Is it making the right impact?
Will it help our planet’s ecosystem support the nine billion people expected to inhabit it by 2050?
A simple definition of sustainability is – ‘the ability to sustain’ or ‘the capacity to endure’
At our current rate of consumption or rather expulsion of gases, waste etc, we are racing towards a road of climate disaster that has either no u-turn or if we do come across one, it may be too late.
Many businesses are sold on the idea of sustainability and truly most if not all are not just paying lip service to this philosophy, as sustainability is very much about commercial success too. Many have come on board with innovative ideas on strategy, design, manufacturing and brand, transforming their businesses to respect environmental limits, fulfil social wants and needs and adapt to a rapidly evolving world.
However, most green business practice involves reducing energy use and waste such as, lighting retrofits, zero-waste factories, and carpool incentives. These efforts focus on limited operational efficiencies.
Do they even make a dent on the climate problem if they do not meaningfully address the primary barrier to sustainability - climate change?
Are they in fact proving to be a distraction while the planet gets hotter and hotter as evident in the rising greenhouse gas emission - the primary driver of recent climate change? The CO2 emission went past the 400 parts per million atmosphere CO2 for the first time in 3 million years, in March 2016. (http://climate.nasa.gov).
So despite the fact that “sustainable business” is the current mantra and practice, why is the environment reminding us that we have not really dealt with the problem and resolve it at anywhere near a significant scale?
So how do we make corporate sustainability sustainable?
The problem is too big for any one business or even several big companies to undertake and make an impact. It is a big challenge that calls for a wide ranging social, political, technological, cultural and behavioural transition across the board with governments leading the way. Since climate change requires a systematic solution on a higher level which only governments can provide, businesses serious about sustainability need to go beyond employing green business practices within their operations and spur government action.
Businesses need to lobby politicians to introduce climate legislation such as carbon-fee-and-dividend program and change the rules of the game through activism via trade associations, suppliers, non-governmental environmental organisations; as well as market their climate activism and educate their customers and suppliers.
Corporate sustainability can only be sustainable in the long term if it not only incorporates green practices in its operation but makes itself heard on the need for higher level governmental involvement.