The Call for Corporate Sustainability

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The Call for Corporate Sustainability

Brief Overview of Sustainability

Sustainability has become a hot topic over the last decade, especially within the corporate world. The conversation around sustainability has been louder than ever before, but with this, its meaning can easily be lost. So, what is sustainability? Well, sustainability involves meeting current needs without compromising the needs of future generations and encompasses the need to maintain the environmental, economic, and social factors, commonly referred to as the three pillars. Environmental sustainability is the need to maintain ecological integrity and equilibrium by consuming natural resources at a rate that allows them to replenish. Economic sustainability ensures economic systems are equitable and accessible to all, enabling long-term economic growth without any negative implications for the social, environmental, and cultural aspects of a community. And finally, social sustainability is regarded as equitable and available human rights to all to ensure everyone has access to adequate resources to maintain a healthy and secure lifestyle.

Corporate Sustainability, Social Responsibility, and Accountability

Corporate sustainability encompasses these three pillars to ensure the long-term sustainable growth of the corporation. Many corporations have made valuable improvements to the sustainability performance of their operations, nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the issues surrounding sustainability extend beyond the scope of any one corporation (Seuring and Gold, 2013). Over 70% of global industrial emissions since 1988 can be traced to just 100 corporate and state-producing entities (Griffin, 2017). This highlights the considerable need for corporate sustainability, as well as corporate accountability. Corporate accountability is the act of holding corporations accountable for their non-financial (social and environmental) impacts on people and the planet and refers to the external pressures on business to meet standards and/or address the consequences of their impact. Corporate accountability is often confused with corporate social responsibility, which is the belief that corporations have an obligation to act responsibly with consideration for their surrounding environment. The fundamental idea of corporate social responsibility is that society is an integral part of business, rather than a distinct entity (Wood, 1991). Both corporate responsibility and corporate accountability believe that corporations have responsibilities beyond generating a profit, such as not negatively impacting the environment and communities. Where they differ, however, is that corporate responsibility often entails voluntary approaches, whilst corporate accountability usually involves external social and political pressure.  Corporate social responsibility and sustainability reduce costs, whilst maximising profits and gives corporations a competitive advantage by increasing reputation and legitimacy, and creates synergistic value (Kurucz et al., 2008). By encompassing the three pillars of sustainability into a business strategy, corporate responsibility and sustainability contribute to the long-term value of the company and society (Rochlin et al., 2005).

The Social and Economic Impacts of Corporate Sustainability

Often when sustainability is discussed there is a large focus on the environmental aspect, however, it’s important to not overlook the harmful and unsustainable impacts of businesses on social and economic factors. Social impacts of a business’ process are looked at both internally and externally across the entire supply chain to ensure operations are run responsibly and ethically. Internally, the sustainable social impacts of a business may include, diversity in hiring, opportunities for women and minorities, lack of discrimination, LGBTQIA+ representation and support, health care and other benefits, safety, training, adherence to labour and employment laws, wages, and breaks. Corporate sustainability concerns the labour practice and conditions of companies within the supply chain. Unsustainable social impacts include the use of sweatshops, child labour, or other human rights abuse. Unfortunately, this is very common within the supply chains of many corporations and is particularly prevalent within the fast fashion industry, agricultural industry for coffee, tobacco, cotton, and sugarcane, as well as mining for minerals such as gold, and precious gems. 

Economic sustainability within the corporate world needs to encompass both the social and environmental pillars of sustainability to be successful. Reducing energy and material expenses during production can influence the economic performance of the corporation. Nevertheless, economic sustainability is not successful given the current practices used to provide a minimum standard of living. To achieve such sustainability, current practices must be adapted and the issues surrounding the social and environmental pillars must be resolved.

The Environmental Impacts of Corporate Sustainability

The current business environment prioritises and promotes fast production and turnover of new products to ensure maximum profit. This approach, driven by mass consumerism, has led to 2.12 billion tonnes of waste being discarded each year, with 99% of products purchased being discarded after 6 months of use. Plastic is a major contributor to the global waste problem and is a key material used in packaging and products by businesses. Each year, 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced, 50% of which is single-use. 91% of plastic is not recycled, ending up in landfills, and 13 million tonnes of it ending up in the ocean each year. In 2019, just 20 corporations contributed to more than half of all global single-use plastic waste, and the top 100 contributed to 90% (Charles et al. 2021). In Australia, 6.5 million tonnes of waste from businesses nationally enter landfills every year. Currently, Earth’s resources are being consumed 1.75 times faster than they can regenerate. According to the UN Environmental Program (UNEP), almost three planets worth of resources will be needed to sustain ourselves if the global population reaches 9.6 billion by 2050. We are expected to reach 9 billion people by 2037. The excessive and unsustainable consumption of Earth’s natural resources is just one indicator of the urgent need for sustainability, both from an individual standpoint and from businesses. 


Sustainable Employee of the Month

Employees can play a crucial role in spreading the message of sustainability and voicing their concern and desire for sustainability within the workplace. As we gradually return back to the office, consider making some sustainable changes to your everyday work habits. It’s important to be the change you want to see. Here are 10 changes you could make:

  • Turn off the lights when you leave a meeting room, and when you leave the office at the end of the day.
  • Bring a reusable coffee flask and water bottle to work (or keep a mug in your draw!) to reduce waste from disposable cups and plastic bottles.
  • If you can, take the stairs instead of the lift.
  • Cycle, walk, carpool, or take public transport to work.
  • Bring lunch to work (and wrap your food in beeswax food wraps!) to reduce waste from single use plastic food packaging. 
  • Turn electrical devices, such as computers, off at the end of the day. And if you’re away from your computer for a short period of time, put it on sleep mode.
  • Print less. If it doesn’t necessarily need to be printed, don’t print it. If it is necessary to print, print it double sided. 
  • Encourage your employer to increase the set point on the air conditioning to save energy, and make the workspace a more comfortable temperature.
  • Recycle paper and plastics. If your office doesn’t have recycling bins, encourage your employer to provide some.
  • Advocate for sustainability within your office. Perhaps suggest a monthly green challenge, such as reducing paper waste by 15% in the office, or by starting a green team.

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Griffin, P. (2017) CDP Report. 

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