Leading companies increasingly recognize the importance of embedding sustainability into their business models. However, professionals seeking sustainability outcomes face certain barriers. Return-on-investment rules are a long-standing challenge, and overcoming them requires positive engagement with finance teams. Presenting a strong business case is another key challenge, requiring creative work across the organization and often with external stakeholders.
The Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA) has launched a new report that highlights these challenges and states that businesses need to do more to address the collective force of global megatrends. The report, “Beyond the Perfect Storm: The Corporate Sustainability Challenge,” cautions against the “business as usual” approach and recommends moving toward a new age of innovation and resolution of sustainability challenges.
IEMA’s report, launched at industry event EdieLive, calls upon businesses to gear up to meet the growing challenges of climate change, population growth, loss of natural capital, water stress, resource scarcity, food supplyand global development issues.
According to the report, innovative business models and new ways to measure return on investment are needed to enable businesses to transform. It also suggests that strategic as well astactical skills of sustainability professionals are central to this change.
Nick Blyth, IEMA’s Policy Lead and the report’s author, says that unless a transformative shift from short-term thinking can be introduced,businesses – individually and collectively – will be unable to reap the rewards. But the urgency also brings with it an opportunity with very tangible financial and reputational benefits for organizations that rise up to the sustainability challenge.
The report offers inspiring examples of leading companies including Marks & Spencer, ArcelorMittal, Wiles Greenworld, and EY to demonstrate what is possible when long-term sustainability practices are adopted.
Palm oil sustainability is one of the issues where M&S showed early leadership. Members of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) are committed to ending deforestation in commodity supply chains, and M&S became co-chair of the palm oil working group, developing sourcing guidelines for 400 of the world’s largest retail and manufacturing organizations.
Already a ‘green’ business, office supply and solutions firm, Wiles Greenworld is actively addressing financial and social issues with a focus on opportunities for change. Its transition to zero-carbon operations has included installing more than 80KW of solar PV panels on the roof of the firm’s main office in London.
Arcelor Mittal is one of Liberia’s largest investors and a founding member of the Ebola Private Sector Mobilization Group, a business body collaborating to protect people, companies and communities from the disease. Given its footprint – direct and indirect employees, their families, their extended families, and their communities – ArcelorMittal touches the lives of tens of thousands of people.
EY works with organizations worldwide to better connect and create impact where it operates. The EY Vantage Program sends top-performing professionals abroad for six weeks to provide free support to high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Since its launch in 2005, the program has provided more than 60,000 hours of support to nearly 250 entrepreneurs in 30 countries.
IEMA’s business briefing also shows that sustainability professionals are now receiving a more positive than negative response to their work. Over 60 percent of these professionals now view corporate sustainability as a “change process” where the organization seeks to understand material issues, impacts and dependencies in order improve and transform their organization.
This article first appeared on JustMeans and is reproduced with permission.