What does sustainability mean?

It is worth remembering the word sustainability comes from the word sustain i.e. something capable of being continued or maintained. Nowadays it is used in a particular way, associated with the environmental and social challenges but in either sense of the word, sustainability means survival [1].

The United Nations defines sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs [2]. Simply put, we must interact with the environment in a way that ensures there will be enough resources left for future generations [3].

So what does that mean for a business?

It is about creating long-term value by taking into consideration how you operate in the ecological, social and economic environment. Sustainability is built on the assumption that developing such strategies fosters company longevity [4].  These three pillars don’t stand alone, they are intertwined, to be considered and balanced in the pursuit of an improved quality of life [5].

Why commit to being sustainable? Apart from the clear necessity to do so as citizens of the world, businesses can benefit too.

  1. It creates differentiation in a crowded marketplace and add brand value.  
  2. It provides greater efficiency in the management of your energy and waste production which benefits the environment and the bottom line.
  3. It helps attract and retain staff.  
  4. It generates new opportunities and encourages innovation.

You can’t just claim it though, you need to measure it!

Any business can say it is sustainable but to be credible it is about committing to and measuring the triple bottom line – Profit, People and Planet. The triple bottom line is about measuring an organisation’s social and environmental impact, in addition to their financial performance [6]. It isn’t a just a financial framework, it is about deeper business thinking and decision-making prompting change [7].

Implemented correctly it’s a win-win, good for business and good for the planet.

References and further reading

[1] https://youmatter.world/en/definition/definitions-sustainability-definition-examples-principles/

[2] https://www.un.org/en/academic-impact/sustainability

[3] https://kids.britannica.com/kids/article/sustainability/631786

[4] https://www.imd.org/research-knowledge/articles/why-all-businesses-should-embrace-sustainability/

[5] https://en.unesco.org/themes/education-sustainable-development/what-is-esd/sd

[6] https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/what-is-the-triple-bottom-line?tempview=logoconvert


Claire Jones
Claire Jones
Claire has always been interested in problem solving and using insight creatively in the storytelling process having spent her career uncovering and delivering strategic insight that makes a difference to brands, governments and not-for-profit organisations. She is currently Head of Insight at London & Partners, the business growth and destination agency for London, a social enterprise whose mission is to create economic growth that is resilient, sustainable and inclusive. She is passionate about sustainability and recently completed a Business Sustainability Management course at Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership. She is enjoying applying these learnings in her day job with London businesses and tourism partners and is keen to share them more widely with the SMEs community. Claire is also a member of the Association of Sustainability Practitioners whose purpose is to promote learning that transforms behaviour from unsustainable to sustainable practices.

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