A round-up of news and opinion.
One of the problems with the term sustainability is defining what it means. “Companies view it in myriad ways,” explained the authors of a recent report by the Boston Consulting Group and MIT’s Sloan Management Review. “Some focusing solely on environmental impact, others incorporating the numerous economic, societal, and political implications.”
Luckily or not, on that front, nature is ahead of us. After a boiling hot summer, certain US cities are starting to prepare for long-term changes in climate. Chicago can look forward to a “wetter, steamier future” — its leaders are repaving streets to make them more permeable and thinking of introducing A/C to public schools — while New York may need to worry about floods from a rising ocean. Many different types of sustainable practices exist, but as the Environmental Protection Agency puts it, “Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.”
Since 2009, the MIT Sloan Management Review, in collaboration with BCG, has published two excellent studies on sustainability and innovation: The Business of Sustainability (2009) quoted above, and The “Embracers” Seize Advantage (2011). This research had a surprising finding: sustainable practices are surviving the recession, and even thriving in certain fields. Between 2009 and 2010, corporations’ commitment to this issue grew.
Impediments to sustainable initiatives still exist, the earlier report found. Some firms fail to understand what sustainability means to their businesses, others struggle to make the case for innovations, while others falter when it comes to carrying them out. But increasingly, the companies that embrace this issue are the top performers, and they have concluded that sustainable strategies give them a competitive edge. With almost 40% of American adults either alarmed or concerned about climate change, it’s undoubtable that practices which help to preserve the natural environment are good for a brand.
The benefits of sustainable initiatives seem substantive across the board. Research at the Brooking’s Institute indicates that ”newer ‘cleantech’ segments produced explosive job gains and the clean economy outperformed the nation during the recession.” In addition, median wages in this area are 13% higher than in the US overall.
So while climate change itself may still give rise to skepticism in some quarters, hard facts remain: sustainable strategies are good for business, and from any perspective, shunning sustainability now means more pain later. As Steve Fludder from General Electric said in the 2009 report:
I think that the world has reached a tipping point now. We’re beyond the debates over whether [addressing sustainability] is something that needs to be done or not — it’s now mostly about how we do it… It’s not about altruism, it’s about creating value.