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Tackling sustainability issues

30 September 2010
Tackling sustainability issues

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with sustainability factors that affect a business, but there are clear steps you can take to form a strategy, says Thomas Jelley, corporate citizenship manager, Sodexo.

At its very simplest, sustainability means the ability to continue over time. So, why are operators still debating whether or not sustainable business is more important now than ever before?

One reason is ambiguity around the meaning of sustainability in practice. Let's be clear: it's not just about the environment but the increasingly complicated combination of economic, social and environmental factors with difficult trade-offs that all businesses have to navigate in order to prosper over time.

In 2010, the business landscape continues to see economic, social and environmental challenges in the spotlight together. The macro-economic outlook is set to remain challenging for some time, with fiscal tightening across the board.

The social landscape is uncertain too: retirement and pensions are under the knife as old assumptions are forced to give way, and youth unemployment and higher education cuts mean the early years of adult life are suddenly far tougher for many.

Furthermore, summer droughts, fires and floods have fuelled food price inflation, a reminder that despite pretentions to the contrary, all economic and social activity ultimately relies on the environment.

There's certainly no one-size-fits-all way to go about it, but businesses that tackle sustainability challenges head-on and benefit from doing so tend to follow a similar path.

The first step is a realistic appreciation of the material economic, social and environmental factors that impact on a business. This helps managers to see where the risks and opportunities lie - for example, new products or services, new potential talent pools or supply chain partners, better environmental management that can lead to reduced utility and waste disposal costs or complying with modern regulation such as the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme.

Measurement and data help to decide where and how best to address the factors that impact on a business. This might be through an environmental management system, a diversity and inclusion strategy, local community investment or a focused approach to supply chain.

Perhaps the hardest but most important part of all in practice is communication and engagement. Even the most robust strategy needs to be lifted off the page and brought to life through everyday practices of employees and business partners as the only way to operate.

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