Ten Steps to Sustainable Business in 2013

Article excerpt

Most businesses hope to become sustainable, but for many, reaching that goal is problematic. The road to the finish is filled with obstacles such as inadequate, ad hoc public policy and burdensome reporting. This article lists and describes the ten initiatives that company leaders believe will enable them to shape a future that is more sustainable.

Every year, the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) convenes Canadian companies that are leaders in sustainable business practice. Representing Canada's diverse business landscape - from forestry and extraction to retail and banking - senior leaders gather at a one-day roundtable to discuss sustainability. They share their accomplishments and the challenges they confront in making their companies environmentally and socially responsible. That discussion reveals to business leaders, policy makers and academic researchers the factors that will shape a more sustainable future.

Past discussions have focused on the issues classically associated with sustainable business. These include engaging employees in sustainability while boosting morale, and innovating green products that reduce environmental impacts while growing the top line. This year's discussion, however, focused on activities that extend beyond the firm. For these leaders, the future of sustainable business lies in long-term collaborations that redefine companies' relationships with competitors, environmental activists, citizens and suppliers.

The sustainability leaders presented the following list of 10 initiatives that will help companies become more sustainable, in order of importance:

1. Create smart, integrated public policy.

2. Engage value chain members, including industry and NGO partners.

3. Build a national dialogue on responsible consumption.

4. Create organizational structures that support sustainability.

5. Embed sustainability in corporate culture.

6. Provide clear and equitable directives regarding Aboriginal rights and entitlements.

7. Create conditions that support sustainability-related innovation.

8. Incorporate a social license to operate into business strategy.

9. Prepare organizations and society to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

10. Lessen the burden of sustainability reporting.

1. Create smart, integrated public policy.

Building sound public policy on environmental issues is undeniably complex. But the uncertainty created by governments' failure to act compounds companies' existing planning challenges. "It's not an issue of how companies should deal with climate change," said one business leader. "It's about how to deal with governments not sending clear signals on climate change policy."

Companies need clear, steady direction from governments regarding issues like carbon pricing, national cap-and-trade systems for greenhouse gas emissions or feed-in tariffs for new energy-generation sources. They also need clarity around the intersection of environmental, energy, economic and social policies - many of which are often conflicting. In one example from the United States, electricity utility GenON Energy Management was forced to choose between violating its state's Clean Water Act and violating its mandate to deliver a certain amount of electricity . Environmental regulations required the utility to replace equipment, thereby reducing the water pollution associated with power generation. The equipment change, however, would lower their production capacity and jeopardize their ability to deliver the obligatory amount of electricity mandated through an ISO commitment.

Only with clear, consistent and integrated policies can companies confidently invest in new technologies, new standards and stafftraining for sustainability.

2. Engage value chain members, including industry and NGO partners.

Effective collaboration is the key to accelerating sustainability across a value chain or an industry. …