Business, Sustainability

With business, not against business

Attending a conference about sustainable business, it quickly became apparent that the approach of this conference (and the attendees) was very much about environmental sustainability, how important it was and the fact that business just has to come on-board. The message of the conference was, this is how bad the problem is, now you go and adjust what you are doing so it gets fixed.

Firstly I thought it was a waste of the first half day explaining to the audience that environmental sustainability was an issue. Being members of a sustainable business group and attending a conference on that topic would sure indicate some awareness and buy-in already.

Secondly, their approach seemed to forget that they are a business group not an environmental group. A group of businesses concerned about sustainability not a group of environmentalists interested in business. This is a fundamental difference and one that I believe is holding back widespread innovation and action by businesses.

Most people want to do what is right for both the environment and their communities. If they could achieve their outcomes without causing damage to the wider eco-system, then they would probably at least look at it. What they don’t want to be told is that they’re the problem and it’s up to them to fix because they’re the bad guys here.

The message really needs to be more positive than that. We need to do better for our environment and communities and we need businesses help because they can make an awesome difference. How can we work together to make this happen?

The systems, resources, people, planning and ‘smarts’ of business can be a massive part of the solution, they’re not the enemy and being told by outsiders what to do isn’t the way to tap into all the positives they can bring.

The actions of business to these big issues need to be driven by business people, using business techniques in a way that isn’t detrimental to what business is trying to achieve.

Coming back to the conference, I was looking forward to listening to business people discussing what they have done and advice as to how businesses can look at their operations with a view to promoting positive changes.

If we take the approach that we all want the same outcomes, then we can use each other’s strengths to get the job done. Business is a great resource but it is business and changes need to come from a business perspective.

Jessica 2 

Business, Sustainability

A Journey Begun

There was a time when doing good was left to those who ran charities, but in recent years we see a growing number of businesses taking on social and environmental issues as a core part of who they are.

Businesses can play their part in building sustainable communities through sensible strategic and operational processes. Having seen how a business can operate in a commercial market while contributing to a greater good, I want to see more business practices that make good sense from an organisations perspective but also help the communities in which they operate.

You don’t have to run a large corporation to make a difference in the world, nor do you have a registered charity to make a meaningful contribution toward social change. Small business owners can easily incorporate social and environmental activities into their daily business and create an impressive public image in the process.

Sustainability ‘experts’ have been telling us for years how we should operate to make the world a better place – according to them. This approach continues to see a level of disconnect between the worlds of commerce and sustainability. Turning this around, I always start with looking at how businesses operate so they can play their part in making this a better world.

Sustainability is gaining significant momentum and will increasingly become a major focus for customers, suppliers and shareholders.

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Some of the terminology being used to discuss sustainability may appear a bit foreign in the mainstream business world but fundamentally I have a very simple and optimistic view, whatever the current fad, ultimately most of us want to see a better world.

This story began for me when I attended a Masterclass in Advanced Strategic Governance held by Steve Bowman from ConsciousGovernance. I didn’t know it at the time but one simple question was to start me off on a whole new adventure.

The simple question that led to my light bulb moment was “What difference does your organisation make to the communities you serve?”

Enthused by the answer that the question produced, I explored how the company I was working for interacted with its communities and the many ways it made a difference to people’s lives.

money-2810338__340.pngLooking back, it was interesting that profits were never explicitly part of the thinking process, however they were always there as an assumption. From a business owner who wants to get rich simply to buy nice things, through to full on charities who are attempting to alleviate poverty in the third world, money coming in (profit) is a necessary tool.

Having started on this journey, I now realise that there is a growing acceptance of the importance for ‘human’ issues within the business sector. It really feels like now is the time for businesses to full-heartedly embrace community sustainability and the impact they can make.

Talking to inspiring business and social entrepreneurs has made me really take note of the need to build on this enthusiasm; to grow and develop social enterprises that operate as businesses but with multiple methods of achieving their social goals.

Why do we need to limit this to social enterprise though? We need to remember that people in business are ultimately…people first and foremost. There are a lot of great people in business who want to make a difference. These people need to be encouraged and supported because when their businesses do well, others can also benefit.

An efficient business is a tool that can be used to achieve many different outcomes. Both the business world and the Not-for-profit sector should be embracing the possibilities that successful business can bring.

Everything a business does will have some impact on the communities in which it operates or interacts with.

  • Where you operate from
  •  What you produce
  • How you manage your operations
  • Who you employ
  • Your supply chain and procurement practices
  • Where you sell to
  •  Your corporate social responsibility activity

The concept of community sustainability goes well beyond complying with the law and giving money to your local rugby club. It’s about the impact from all aspects of your operation.

Ask yourself: Is your business making the world a better place for the communities it impacts?

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