Sustainability will be a critical corporate theme over the next decade. But what does it actually mean to be a sustainable business? Simon Kingston explains why it is so much more than just thinking about your organization’s environmental impact.
What does it actually mean to be a sustainable business?
Simon Kingston: Sustainability, I think, does mean different things for different businesses in different places and serving different sectors. And for some, it tends to be rather narrowly understood in environmental or climate change related terms. But I like to think of it as ethical capitalism. The best and most successful businesses have a view on where they fit in the societies in which they operate and from which they come. And they have a view of their responsibility to their staff, to their shareholders, to their customers, but also to the wider populations in which they operate.
And in that sense, there's nothing new about it. It's easy to think of the players across a whole range of sectors who have been successful for centuries rather than just years because of that understanding of their corporate purpose and their corporate values. And in that respect, it's not an addition to their commercial value proposition. It's an integral part of their commercial value proposition. And it's why it's a successful one.
Why is it so important for businesses to operate with a sustainability mindset?
Simon Kingston: It's because information on the way in which businesses do what they do has never been easier to obtain or transmitted faster. It is harder and harder to get away with irresponsible, unethical business practice than it's ever been before. So that's the negative reason.
But the much more positive reason is because a sensitivity to these issues and a serious treatment of them allows businesses to adapt faster and is a competitive advantage. What we are seeing on the boards of some of the corporations that are dealing with this most effectively is that it's altered the way they think. In some respects, it means the way boards address these issues is messier, but it allows them to adapt faster and that in the long-term is the guarantee of their commercial success.