Thinking beyond business unit or organisational ‘silos’ and embracing the opportunity to adopt sustainable business practices throughout all activities, products and services makes very real business sense… especially when we can then shout about it!
Gary Sims, Director at consultancy Fathom Energy & Environment, discusses the drivers and merits of conducting a diagnostic and benchmark ‘health-check’ on your organisations sustainable business practices.
Whilst a core pillar, truly sustainable business practices must take us beyond health and safety. Our organisations need to deliver integrated social and economic value in a way that is low carbon and resource efficient, operates within environmental limits, is resilient to changing environmental conditions, respects human rights and addresses social concerns
It has to be really encouraging that more and more businesses are recognising both strategic and bottom line benefits for acting responsibly and reporting their credentials. After all the language of business is money… isn’t it?
We have seen the recognition from many leading companies that to create long-term value for stakeholders in a responsible, cost-effective and sustainable way, interdependence exists between the financial and non-financial performance. Organisations are seeing that without the success of both sustainable development would not be possible.
This interdependence is being recognised by investors who want to balance making a return from their money with concern and respect for wider social and environmental issues. This socially responsible and ethical investment has grown massively with £11.3 Billion invested in ethical investment funds within the UK alone, and its growing.
The first ethical investment fund launched in 1984 and there are now over 100 funds providing ethical investment choice. 250,000 people in UK invested ethically in 2001 but within 10 years this figure reached 750,000.
It’s not just the publicly quoted companies, huge internationals or public sector, it’s happening at grass-roots small and medium sized enterprises as well. A point well illustrated by a recent survey looking at tackling the issue of sustainably in business by Lloyds Banking Group revealed that of the 1,008 SME’s responding 54% claim that sustainable business practices have saved them money, 30% claim it increases their profitability, 39% believe ignoring sustainability will harm their brand and 32% said lack of engagement excluded them from tenders.
So investing in sustainable business practices can make very good sense – for the investor and the organisation.
How people invest says a lot about priorities individually and as a society. Organisations need to recognise and react to the expectations of their all their stakeholders. When this delivers the ‘triple bottom line’ benefits to economic, social and environmental success, then barriers to, or marginalisation of sustainable business practices should not exist.
Activity within health and safety, environmental, HR, accounts, facilities, estates, in fact all of our activities, products and services, are relevant. Don’t let your organisation miss the challenge by thinking and operating within functional ‘silos’ – develop a bespoke and purposeful sustainable development strategy and implement it!
For many organisations good work in these areas has either been marginalised as non-core or turned into exaggerated claims for marketing purposes. Worse still many of us would confess to a large degree of scepticism when it comes to organisational performance reports in this area. Since 1999, GRI has provided Sustainability Reporting Guidelines to offer organisations credibility, consistency and comparability. ISO 26000:2010 provides guidance rather than requirements, so it cannot be certified to unlike some other well-known ISO standards. Instead, it helps clarify what social responsibility is, helps businesses and organizations translate principles into effective actions and shares best practices relating to social responsibility, globally. It is aimed at all types of organizations regardless of their activity, size or location.
Then there is the internationally recognised Global Compact which asks companies to embrace certain principles around labour issues, human rights, environmental protection and avoiding corrupt business practices. Other international guidelines that can help companies manage their businesses in a responsible way include the International Labour Organisation Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the UN Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights, or closer to home, organisations like Business in the Community
One thing to bear in mind is that views, attitudes, and expectation evolve. Boundaries are pushed constantly and businesses are facing new environmental and social challenges every day. Conducting a diagnostic and benchmark ‘health-check’ on your organisations practices and performance will inform your decision making, and ensure the best gain is achieved using prevailing standards, protocols, guidance and reporting tools.