What Constitutes a Truly Sustainable Business?

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Sustainability is the great new green buzz word in our society – but what does it really mean?  Does it mean that a business can use sustainable materials, treat employees well, but not turn a profit?  Or does it mean that a business can make all the right noises, recycle products, give to high profile organizations and yet treat its employees like expendable commodities?   Most definitely not!

Sustainability is a complex topic – and means that the business protects not only its future through ALL activities associated with its operations, but the future of the planet and future generations. 

Not too long ago, most Western businesses saw a large conflict between sustaining profitability, people, and the planet’s natural resources.  Decisions were made on a quarter-by-quarter basis, as the stockholders had to see immediate profit – this often meant sacrificing the future in order to make the financial statements look good.  As the green movement is still young, most businesses haven’t yet moved to sustainability just yet – but this perception of conflict is beginning to change.  

The population is beginning to rebel against the idea of a throw-away society, largely because of the recession we face.  We want to use our purchases, such as cell phones, computers, iPods and stereos longer than the average six month lives they are now designed for.  Businesses must adapt to these new attitudes, or die.

How will this come about?  One way is to create profits through services instead of things – a path giants such as HP and IBM have begun to pursue.  Working with businesses to help them keep their almost fully depreciated assets in service is lucrative – ask most IT firms! Creating products that feature quality and are built to last will command a higher price – providing a higher revenue stream for the products that are being sold.

Conservation of natural resources such as energy also saves production and operating costs – improving the bottom line sustainably.  And treating workers well means that the work force will be more productive – also enhancing the bottom line.

We have a long way to go…..but from the looks of it, we are now at least on the right path.  

[Photo Credit: www.flickr.com  Darren Hester  Under a Creative Commons license]

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