An innocent solution to world poverty or hunger often pops up on the Internet – if X billionaires donated Y for the cause, it would set things straight. This solution, born out of simple math, appears convincing. The responsibility of sustainability falls into the hands of those who seemingly benefit the most from a system that created problems in the first place.
However, can money solve problems of sustainability? Is creating a sustainable environment a task that requires a comprehensive approach? Follow along to find out.
|1.||Sustainability refers to understanding the connection between the environment, society, and economy.|
|2.||Money is a tool that can aid in sustainable development, but it cannot buy sustainability.|
|3.||Money cannot define an organization or nation’s potential for sustainable development.|
|4.||Sustainable strategies are profitable for a business in the long run.|
|5.||Sustainability in business can take several forms at a lower level: partnering with like-minded organizations, making small efforts, committing to diversity, etc.|
What is sustainability?
Sustainability is a term that has been explored through multiple approaches. UCLA defines it as “the integration of environmental health, social equity and economic vitality in order to create thriving, healthy, diverse and resilient communities for this generation and generations to come. The practice of sustainability recognizes how these issues are interconnected and requires a systems approach and an acknowledgement of complexity.”
Sustainability is about understanding the connection between the environment, society, and economy. It aims at creating harmony between humans and nature considering present and future needs.
Money cannot be the only solution to a multilayered goal such as sustainability.
What if money was the solution?
Let us imagine a scenario where money could solve all sustainability problems. There is enough money to be spent on the infrastructure required to achieve sustainable development goals. Would this solve issues of inequality and social injustice? Enough money cannot ensure the complete well-being of society. There will be gaps in a strategy solely based on providing a financial solution.
Sustainability stands on four pillars–personal, social, economic, and environmental. Efforts are to be made in all four areas to achieve balance. Enough money cannot guarantee stability in the future, a concern that is central to sustainable development. Even if sustainable development goals were to be funded adequately, they wouldn’t ensure equal access to all. An article by Nature explains that funds allocated for climate change are often spent on a handful of projects in rich countries. The climate cash doesn’t flow in the right direction to poor countries with multiple problems on their hands.
A good action plan for sustainable development has to acknowledge that, ultimately, specific resources are finite on this planet. Sustainability, which focuses on ensuring all resources are available for a continued time, cannot rely on money. It requires efficient strategies and consistent efforts. Money, therefore, is an inefficient solution in this regard as it cannot simply buy sustainability.
Can money measure sustainability?
Sustainability is an all-encompassing concept that covers health, diversity, social equity, the economy, and the environment. It focuses on the overall well-being of an organization, nation, and the world. That is why sustainability cannot be measured in terms of who has more money. Several indices that can be used to measure sustainability are based on holistic approaches taking into account quality of life, the well-being of a nation, ecological footprint, education, etc. The environment, social quotient, and governance metrics calculate a company’s transparency and sustainability.
Not only is money an inefficient way to fulfill sustainable development goals, but it is also an inadequate measure of a nation’s or an organization’s potential to achieve them. Additionally, personal sustainability, a concept that touches upon individual efforts, well-being, and fulfillment, cannot be measured in terms of money.
For instance, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory that talks about five levels of basic needs–physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Money can only offer fulfillment of physiological and safety needs. To meet further needs, one must engage in meaningful activities, feel included and have a sense of purpose.
Personal sustainability should be looked at through an approach that allows complete assessment of an individual’s basic needs. Pietential is one such service that allows a person to reach their full potential by enabling them to assess their basic needs based on Maslow’s theory, giving equal importance to all these needs.
Does money not matter at all?
We cannot disregard money’s importance while discussing sustainability. It is an essential pillar of sustainable development. However, money is a tool that needs to be used appropriately. Money becomes a part of the plan when national and organizational leaders fund causes that support sustainable development, businesses adopt a sustainable mindset, and people, as consumers, spend on sustainable products and services.
Businesses can impact the sustainability dynamics of a society, country, and ultimately the world as the economy is an essential tenet of sustainability. Businesses can incorporate a value-based mindset that aligns with their sustainable development goals. Consumers are willing to pay more for a brand that is involved in “doing social or environmental good,” according to a Unilever study.
Interestingly, when you pursue sustainability in business, profit follows.
For example, the company Levi Strauss & Co. is known for its social impact and continued efforts to maintain the well-being of its people and the environment. It was awarded one of Engage for Good’s Golden Halo Awards in 2020.
The award is given to organizations that make an impact by engaging consumers and employees around initiatives that serve a purpose. Levi Strauss has been recognized for consistently committing to equality and sustainability.
With a positive impact on the environment and their image, no wonder businesses worldwide are trying to adopt sustainable goals.
Read further to find out more about sustainability in business.
Sustainability and business
According to Harvard Business School, sustainability in business means “doing business without negatively impacting the environment, community, or society as a whole.”
HBS further defines two categories of sustainability in business–effect on the environment and impact on society. For a business strategy to be sustainable, it needs to consider its long-term implications in at least one of the two categories.
Source: Harvard Business School Online
A successful method is adopting a strategy where an organization’s sustainability criteria become part of its work culture. As mentioned in HBS, according to McKinsey, the most vital motivating factors for adopting a sustainable mindset in 2017 were
- to align with a company’s goals, missions, or values;
- to build, maintain, or improve reputation;
- to meet customer’s expectations; and
- to develop new growth opportunities
For devising a sustainable business strategy, a business should consider the triple bottom line, known as the three P’s – Profit, People, and Planet. Sustainability in business would mean changing your perspective on how things get done at your workplace. A sustainable business would invest for the long-term, treat people well, and use natural resources responsibly.
Infusing sustainable goals with your organizational goals would result in improved efficiency and productivity in the workplace. Sustainability can take many forms within an organization. The following section explains how sustainable practices can be adopted in a business.
What can sustainability look like in the workplace?
Setting targets for financing sustainable goals and strategizing to profit from sustainability is one side of the coin. Sustainability works on every level in an organization. Here are five ways to achieve sustainability that work beyond the financial level –
- Teach sustainability to achieve it: For a business to be sustainable, it needs to adopt sustainable values within its system and work on sustainable goals. An organization’s sustainability depends on how well it incorporates sustainable values within its culture.
An organization driven by value and purpose can achieve its goals by starting with its members first. If charity begins at home, so do sustainable practices.
- Selecting the right partners: Indeed, birds of a feather flock together! You can partner with organizations working towards the same cause to achieve your sustainability goals. Whether making business partners with green initiatives, working with organizations to help the environment, or forming teams/groups with sustainability champions, things will become easier if you have like-minded people to work with.
HERproject is an initiative “to unlock the full potential of women working in global supply chains through workplace-based interventions on health, financial inclusion, and gender equality.” It is a collaborative initiative between global brands and NGOs and has impacted more than 1000 workplaces across 17 countries.
HERproject’s model is based on bringing similar minds together to work on health, financial inclusion, and gender equality.
- Efforts for all, efforts by all: Sustainability is about team effort. And this team effort can work on multiple levels. Every step counts, from brands advising their customers to dispose of their products responsibly, to workplaces fostering an inclusive culture to employees practicing personal sustainability. These efforts, whether big or small, can collectively make a huge impact.
- Little things that count: Speaking of small efforts, each step towards realizing your sustainability goals counts. Companies can achieve these small goals by using more energy-efficient devices or asking their local community to be involved in their sustainable practices. Making every employee feel included and valued at your workplace can also be a step towards sustainability!
- Investing in people–the most crucial resource: People are essential to a sustainable business model. In this context, sustainability can look like inclusive culture, giving importance to and celebrating diversity or taking care of your employee’s well-being.
For example, you can take surveys to ensure your employees are satisfied or determine their needs are being met. Pietential is a service that allows you to assess your employees’ needs based on their demographics.
GlaxoSmithKline’s commitment to ethnic and gender diversity is another example of how companies can work on inclusion and diversity.
Sustainability is a marathon where small yet consistent efforts matter the most. And we should patiently wait for the results. Organizations should keep working towards positive change, even if it is one step at a time while being transparent about their sustainable goals, successes, and failures!
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the four pillars of sustainability?
There are four pillars of sustainability; personal, social, economic, and environmental.
- What is the triple bottom line?
The triple bottom line is a concept that concerns the financial, social, and environmental impact of a business. It is also known as the three Ps: Profit, People, and the Planet.
- What are environment, social, and governance metrics?
The ESG or Environment, Social, and Governance criteria are a set of standards often used to holistically analyze the sustainability practices of a business.