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Sustainability in business - Survival or Money?

By Hagan Brown


It is the year 2045, Tuvalu Islands are gone, 30% of China’s land surface has been swallowed by the sea, polar bears are extinct, the Yangtze river has been filled with algae bloom, novel diseases are sweeping away countless lives, intensive heat waves hover the earth surface, migratory seabirds are no more, 82% of Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Gap production are face masks and gloves, and by that time you would be wondering what a world this is.


Are these not the aftermath of the ‘Perfect Storm’? In 2009, the Chief Scientific Advisor of the United Kingdom, Sir John Beddington, predicted how food shortages, water scarcity and insufficient energy resources have the capacity to cause public unrest, mass migration and disasters plus cross-border conflicts in the years to come, while the world will be dealing with climate change adaptation and mitigation. He identified three aspects: demography – the world’s population growth increasing about 7 million each month; urbanization – the mass movement and the urge of people to move from rural communities to cities by the end of 2030; the emerging middle class – people getting wealthier, particularly in South Asia. He termed these aspects the ‘perfect storm’.


Source: Reuters

‘The perfect storm’, which is already happening: shortages of food and water scarcity due to climate change and population increase; COVID-19; floods; are hints for businesses to adjust their operations and humanity to change how they live, not because they have to protect the environment, but to also survive. Consequently, countless institutions, governments of various countries, are putting in policies that call for sustainability to be included in business models regardless of the various debates on climate change mitigation and adaptation topics.

For instance, according to the document Opinions of national development and reform commission and ministry of ecology and environment on further strengthening the control of plastic pollution of the Central Government of China, starting from this year, 2020, policies are in place to ban, restrict the use and production of plastic material. The policy document stresses how organizations should cultivate sustainable business ideas in their working models to build an ecological and social civilization to survive the upcoming changing market.


Moreover, the necessity for businesses to produce green products and take the responsibility to ensure green management of their supply chain will filter out businesses that are not on board with the sustainability ideology elaborated in the policy. Making it apparent that sustainability is a pillar for businesses to survive.

Similarly, in these times of price volatility, unavailability of resources, trade conflicts and a world where consumers are increasingly gaining interest in the sustainability issues of organizations, sustainability infected management is the ‘fittest survive’ attitude in the competitive ‘jungle’ of business.

Consumers have been dragged towards the purchase of organic and eco-labelled products in the past years due to growing reports and articles on climate change and sustainability. Statista, a data analyzing company, reported an exponential sales worth $95 billion of organic products in 2018 compared to $18 billion in 2000 alone, a vivid indication of the sustainability drive in the world’s economy.


In a survey based on 260 firms in the FTSE 350 Index in 2013 by Carbon Disclosure project, an environmental metrics reporting company, 86% of companies were aware of the risks posed by climate change, however, their level and knowledge in the management of these risks were lower. In their 2018 report, over 18000 companies in Europe representing a combined revenue of $7.95 trillion were on board on various programs to embrace sustainability in their business models to survive the changing trend – clearly a proof of the importance for sustainability in businesses.


Various institutions and individuals have developed toolkits and guidelines to help organizations implement successful business models and to be a ‘champion’ in sustainable development management. For an organization to be a ‘champion’ in sustainable management, sustainability should be pushed into the ‘DNA’ of organization, in addition to being committed at the highest level in sustainability issues while operating responsibly in accordance with the universal principles.


SDG Compass; The Natural step which incorporates a science-based framework; One planet living’s guiding principles; UN Global Compact; BS8900 developed by the British standard institute; are examples of tools and frameworks for an organization to add sustainability into their business.



SDG Compass provides guidelines on how an organization can align its strategies to establish Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in its business. Among its 5 steps, the first step requires an organization to understand the SDGs in order to shape, navigate its strategies, goals and activities to reap the range of benefits including but not limited to identifying business opportunities and keeping up the pace with policy developments.

The second step talks about how an organization should define its priorities across its entire value chain, both upstream and downstream, to determine risks and opportunities. As a result, positive, negative, current and future impacts its activities have on the SDGs will be determined to affect sustainable development.

Goal setting, the third step, is critical to business success. Setting goals depending on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) provides a stand to monitor and measure sustainability performance. This step focuses on the setting of social, economic and environmental goals in order for the business to survive.


Source: sdgcompass

As mentioned earlier, sustainability should be implanted in the organization’s DNA in order to achieve goals. The leadership of the organization is required to integrate sustainability into the core of the business by creating a shared understanding of achieving sustainability for the organization along with communicating to the workforce on how their actions and functions will help in achieving these sustainability goals.

Moreover, stakeholder engagement is likewise vital in sustainable development. The fifth step amplifies the importance of reporting and communicating the organizational sustainable performance to boost reputation and to portray the transparency of the organization in sustainability matters.



Source: Inc

These coming years are known to be infested with policies, laws that are deeply rooted in promoting sustainability across businesses pertaining to reasons of the Paris Agreement alongside the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. Therefore, it is essential for all organizations to be equipped with the knowledge and skills that will see to a successful implementation of sustainable business models on which they will not only avoid risk of prosecution, reputational damage and pollution but prosper on identified business opportunities to thrive and survive the waves of the ‘perfect storm’ and prevent its aftermath.


Source: sandler

At Zero Waste Shanghai we have a special Training Program to engage and motivate employees in sustainability knowledge and practices. The Training Program is designed for companies and organizations to engage in a sustainable development mindset. It teaches and inspire through masterclasses, talks, team building activities and fun experiences. Learn more about it here.



CSR - Green Corporate Culture - Sustainability Training Program - SGDs - Education


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