In reality the concept of sustainability is a decision nearly every human and business must face by the end of the 21st century. As earth’s population has reached an estimated 7 billion, testing the capacity of the natural environment we are so much a part of and rely on for our ultimate survival (Kunzig). The Environmental Protections Agency (E.P.A) reports, “sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations”. Collectively, we have started to question and evaluate whether earth’s resources will be able to provide clean water, food, energy, and shelter to sustain productive human life and business at this population and beyond.
Thus, the principle of sustainability is at the forefront of the modern business environment, changing the way we think and do business. Many corporations have started taking a proactive approach, creating environmental policies and integrating eco-friendly initiatives into their organizational strategies. As we look to what it means for a corporation to be sustainable we must identify the triple bottom line. “The triple bottom line (TBL) […] consists of three P’s: profit, people and planet. It aims to measure the financial, social and environmental performance of the corporation over a period of time” (The Economist). Corporations that take into account the triple bottom line approach take into account the entire cost involved in doing business.
Companies can pursue sustainable strategies in a multitude ways and for a wide variety of reasons. Wal-Mart has specialized in producing a finite sustainable approach to its supply chain. Combining triple bottom line with the concept of life cycle analysis, Wal-Mart has improved environmental imprints at every level of the supply chain. For example, Wal-Mart was able to reduce packaging of many of its products, resulting in a 2.4 million dollar reduction in shipping costs which in turn lowered their carbon footprint (Lembke). Patagonia has created an interactive sustainability approach creating their “Footprint Chronicles” on the company’s website. The Footprint Chronicles allow consumers to track their favorite products environmental impact from design to finish.
So what’s the first step in the road to business sustainability?
Without a Corporate Sustainability Policy there is no foundation, framework, or structure to implement and maintain a sustainability strategy. Empirical research indicates a written environmental policy “forms the backbone and skeletal framework from which all other environmental components are hung” (Ramus). Overall, research indicates that these policies help establish expectations and aspirations for sustainability development, encouraging employee eco-initiatives, and creating a foundation and path that can be followed. Research published from the Journal of World Business, Encouraging Innovative Environmental Actions: What Companies and Managers Must Do by Catherine A. Ramus, focused on the outcome variable of employees willing to try environmental initiatives. Ramus gathered a diverse research sample, spanning from the United States to Europe. Six different companies with proactive environmental policies act as the foundation for the imperial investigation. Prior to the survey, researcher’s established 13 environmental policies, derived from the Academy of Management Journal, Assessing the work environment from creativity by Amabile et al. Only 1 of the 13 environmental policies had a direct impact on an employee’s willingness to try eco-initiatives. Written environmental policy had the strongest impact, indicating a strong commitment to environmental policies that increased the probability by nearly 50%. To this end, the results don’t discredit the other policies as they sensitize employees to their manager’s opinions, actions, and workplace perceptions. Additionally analysis revealed employees more knowledgeable about environmental policy had a greater likelihood of trying eco- initiatives (Ramus).
Corporations interested in encouraging support for employee environmental initiatives must establish corporation commitment, integrated written environmental policy, and employ line management support to employees.
- Overall, a well-communicated and written environmental policy is the most important driver in encouraging employee eco-initiatives (Ramus).
- Environmental polices establish what a firm expects and it’s aspirations for sustainability development.
- Implementation should come from line managers that show a commitment to the creation and reinforcement of environmental values.
Thus, corporations should strive to train managers with ecological principles to ensure that eco-initiatives encourage innovation of environmental actions (Ramus). Additional research from the Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, A Greener Company Makes for Happier Employees suggests “communications about environmental performance should be considered as part of comprehensive human resource management strategies” (Walsh and Sulkowski). Thereafter, the research revealed better company environmental performance resulted in more satisfied employees. As well as an environmentally oriented company can result in having happier employees (Walsh and Sulkowski).
There are many options in moving towards the goal of sustainability. For any business to be successful in doing so, I believe that the proper framework must be in place for the company to benefit from these initiatives, and must include a triple bottom line approach. Without balancing the economic, social, and environmental, aspects of sustainability, the company will not ever become truly sustainable. Lastly, it should be noted that there is no widget that can be purchased in order for a company to be sustainable; this is a process that will take many years. With that being said, there is no reason the process cannot be profitable and accomplish the goal of sustainability.
Kunzig, R. (2011, January). Special series: 7 Billion. National Geographic. Retrieved February 9, 2012, from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/01/seven-billion/kunzig-text/2
Lembke, Ronald S. (2011, December) Sustainability; So What do We Know? <http://www.business.unr.edu/faculty/ronlembke/sust/index.html>.
Ramus, C.A. (2002, March 14). Encouraging innovative environmental actions: what companies and Managers must do. Journal of World Business, 37 (2), 151-164
The Economist . (2009, November) “Triple bottom Line”, Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <http://www.economist.com/node/14301663>.
Walsh, Cassandra, and Adam J. Sulkowski. (2010, April). Print. “A greener company makes for happier employees more so than does a more valuable one: a regression analysis of employee satisfaction, perceived environmental performance and financial value.” Interdisciplinary Environmental Review 11.4