But We Already Have a Sustainability Program!

CSRwire contributing writer Elaine Cohen recently published a blog called “PROOF: CSR mitigates risk and saves money. Shame about the strategy” where she discusses the results of The Sustainability Initiatives Report, published in July 2010.  The no-surprise-to-me lesson from the report: “Few companies view sustainability as a core part of their global strategy; most still view sustainability policy as a means to mitigate risk and achieve operational efficiencies.”

Cohen points out that most big companies still approach sustainability tactically rather than strategically, and consider sustainability a housekeeping task, focussing on managing basic risks and regulations, like reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions and improving occupational health and safety.  There are, of course, some shining exceptions, but they are just that – the exception rather than the rule.

While necessary and even laudable, peripheral tactical sustainability efforts represent more cost that benefit (to the company), do little to prepare companies for the increasingly unpredictable risks that lie ahead, and limit companies from leveraging the incredible world of opportunities that emerge from bringing sustainability to their core.   The fact that you already have a sustainability program doesn’t mean you are sustainable or are even moving toward sustainability.  Too bad for you!

If you collected the stated goals of all of the sustainability programs of all companies in the whole world and could wave a magic wand to make them all come true right now, would the world be “sustainable”?  Nope, not by a long shot.  If we replaced every incandescent bulb with a CFL, met every GHG emission target, met all Kyoto protocol…. you know the list … we would still be on track to ruin the natural world as we know it.  How could that be?  Because we are aiming too low, way too low.  Our stated goals, the ones upon which most sustainability programs are built, are aimed at making a bad situation a less bad.

What’s the answer?  Instead of looking at sustainability as a problem to be solved, businesses can look at sustainability, and all that it’s about, as the core value of their company and as an endless font of opportunities.   It’s about turning challenges into opportunities, conflicts into collaboration, and chains into networks.  It’s about leveraging the power of limits and the free energy of your business ecosystem.   It’s about adaptability, and resilience, creativity and innovation.  It’s bridging business and biology to create a business shaped by nature.