OK, this post is overdue. I had thought the concept of sustainability was rather well understood but I have been reminded several times in the last few weeks that we still have some work to do. One instance was the December cover of PM Network (a Project Management Institute business magazine and a useful resource) where it states “Sustainability Redefined: It’s not just about the environment anymore.” I have seen this cover on my desk many times since December and each time I think “I need to blog on this” so I am.
When did sustainability mean green? Clearly it must have because many people hear “sustainable business practices” and they think green and environmentally friendly. How do green initiatives themselves make a business sustainable? What happens when the business stops making a profit — can they sustain operations for long?
No, being sustainability does not mean being green. It does mean creating and operating an organization that can endure (sustain) for the long-term. Although sustainable innovation and organizational change strategies are clearly required for such organizations, sustainability is best described in terms of the tripble bottom line: financial, environmental, and societal (Elkington, Emerson, and Beloe, 2006).
This is also being phrased as the 3 Ps: profit, planet, and people. Ethical behavior is viewed in relationship to being good stewards of all three areas:
- Pursuing profits because that creates a strong organization that can be responsible to the planet and people. Without profit we can’t finance the other two important and necessary Ps.
- Caring for the planet by interacting with the environment in a way that creates a sustainable (long-term) and responsible business model — often this can reduce costs.
- Treating people and communities with respect because these are current and future employees and customers.
Are you still thinking sustainable only means being green? While this may be true of a famous frog, it is not true of sustainability. Perhaps a better way of thinking of sustainability is as responsibility — it is what responsible organizations do.
Reference: Elkington, J., Emerson, J., & Beloe, S. (2006). The Value Palette: A Tool for Full Spectrum Strategy. California Management Review, 48(2), 6-28.