The Future of Sustainability

By Matthew Weller – Sustainability Advisor, MJC Sustainability

With 2011 we have seen numerous natural disasters and world conflicts, coupled with political stalemate around climate change and the appropriate actions, where does the future of sustainability lie?  Will the distraction of politics and the waiting for direction cause the push for world sustainability to stall and fall?  Or will a strong collective world and corporate community take community action and change the face of sustainability as it is today?  It is impossible to predict, but one thing is for certain, how we view sustainability within our homes, communities and corporate workplaces needs to change if we are to truly move towards sustainability.

As a worldwide business community, part of the responsibility to ensure the future of our operating environments is through a refreshed attempt at sustainability.  What could this refreshed attempt look like?  Dr. Matthew Tueth from Aquinas College, Michigan, USA has put forward one alternative to the future of sustainable business.  MJC Sustainability reviews this fresh, innovative approach, and provides some food for thought for readers.

Triple top-line value production

Triple top-line sustainability combines three important requirements of sustainable business, environmental improvement, social advantage for staff and the local community, and financial returns for businesses.  It also ensures the three components are recognised by the business as equals when it comes to decision-making.  Top line stresses the importance of up front value to the business over the “after the fact” effects.  The use of the phrase triple top line is essentially bringing the term triple bottom line to the forefront of business operation. 

Reading between the lines, this element suggests a change in language and also the mindset in how sustainability is approached within businesses.  There are different approaches that can put sustainability at the top of your business’s corporate responsibility.  Some examples are shared below:

  • Implementation of a sustainability blueprint for your business is the first step in taking action, mapping out an action plan to bring sustainability to the forefront in your business operations and decision making for your employees, clients and other stakeholders.  This could include a vision, policy and strategy for your business
  • Put community action into actual action, alongside community sponsorships, encourage staff to be involved in community events, and encourage the community to be involved in your business through consultation and employing local students for work experience
  • Plan ahead, create long-term relationships with local suppliers and clients, not only does this support local economies, it shows true action for your business sustainability by supporting another businesses sustainability
  • If you are in the service industry, rather than “adding on” sustainability to your products, implement systems that ensure clients benefit from a truly sustainably product and service.

Nature-based knowledge and technology

This element is a stretch target for business, as it requires a business review that looks at nature and utilise biomimicry to conduct business, process information and design communities.  The premise of this approach is to look at what services and products your business provides and see how your business could improve through smarter operation, and use nature as your inspiration.

At first glance the combination of nature and business seems a difficult concept, but it is one that can provide a business with a point of difference if implemented.  Some ideas and examples of nature-based businesses are shared here:

  • Localise your business, implement policies to focus on employing local people, using local suppliers and support local community groups.  Many businesses seek to centralise their preferred suppliers, when in reality, the value in using a local equivalent can provide many benefits to both the company and the local economy
  • Review the company purchasing policy and identify how you can use more local, sustainable and natural products.  Encouraging the use of organic and biodegradable cleaning supplies, natural material office furniture and reusable products are some examples of simple changes that can alter your businesses external interactions with suppliers.  Remember, whilst a product may appear cheaper, it does make sense to spend your investment on a product that is durable, has less environmental impact and supports a local business.  Not only will this bring your business “ecosystem” into a smaller footprint, it will also encourage staff to do the same outside of work
  • Identify how you can improve your service or product offerings through using natural materials that can be reused or recycled easily
  • A great example of using nature as an inspiration is the tiling company Interface who, after observing the small scale chaos yet large scale order in nature, developed a carpet tiling system where no two tiles are the same and can be placed in any orientation, in turn saving installation time and expense compared to conventional approaches.

Products of service to products of consumption

Reviewing your business products is another element of sustainability for the future.  In the future, products of service will be durable goods that can be returned to the manufacturer and re-conditioned into new products once they are worn out (e.g. a car upon reaching the end of it’s life can be returned to the builder for reuse and refurbishment).  Whilst products of consumption will have a shorter life span and be items made only of biodegradable, non-hazardous materials.  The premise of this approach is to require manufacture of only these product types and slowly reduce production of service products (which use non-renewable resources) and move towards replacing these through technological advancements to products of consumption (using renewable resources).  To implement this approach in your business, there are some key opportunities:

  • Reviewing your business and how you produce your service or product will allow you to identify where you sit between these two product types and how you could improve your service/product to be a durable service of sustainable consumable.  Do you provide a product of service?  How can you make your business create more a product that is both durable and uses minimal natural resources?  Does your business produce products of consumption?  How can you take your products to the next level through using renewable and returnable components?
  • Look at how your products of consumption can be smarter through using nature based knowledge and technology in the construction and use of the products.

We will continue into more detail on the future approach for sustainability in our business operating environments in the next blog post.

Reference: Tueth. Matthew Ph.D (2010). Fundamentals of Sustainable Business: A Guide to the Next 100 years. Hackensack: World Scientific Publishing Co.

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