The term “sustainability” yields 123 million results in Google’s search engine. And origins of the word “sustain” provide more than 10 dictionary interpretations. Many have a notion that the term refers only to ecosystem balance. However, sustainability in the corporate context means something much more. This is the first in a blog series exploring the many facets of how corporations define and live to sustainable standards that have meaning – the dimensions of doing good.
At the 2005 World Summit on Social Development, sustainability was noted as, “[requiring] the reconciliation of environmental, social equity and economic demands… expressed as an illustration using three overlapping ellipses indicating that the three pillars of sustainability are not mutually exclusive and can be mutually reinforcing.” In other words, sustainability is meeting the triple bottom line.
Triple Bottom Line
Though it has been seven years since this definition was published, a vast majority companies are just starting to understand the benefits of acting under this context and beginning to take triple bottom line actions more seriously. This is due to the:
- Realization that regulatory compliance
- Long-term access to raw materials
- Affordablesourcing/manufacturing costs
- Employee satisfaction
- Talent retention
All of which relate to the triple bottom line mission are all essential to enabling corporate survival. Furthermore, environmental and social metrics aligned with these concepts are increasingly reported to attain high ratings in a realm that is socially applauded. But how are they being measured and compared? The Dow Jones Index and newly evolved B-Corp certifications are first attempts at establishing a standard.
The Dow Jones index analyzes the world’s leading companies using economic, environmental, and social criteria to establish benchmarks for companies who want to adopt the most effective sustainable practices. However, it is used primarily as a means to track current performance rather than setting a new responsibility standard.
More recently, B Corps have evolved and are certifying businesses on social performance, environmental performance, accountability, and transparency standards. The mission of this organization is slightly more forward-thinking than that of the Dow Jones index: to re-define success in business as offering a proactive vision for the future. Well-known brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Method, Seventh Generation, Etsy, W.S. Badger Company, and Cabot are obtaining B Corp certifications to learn how to solve social and environmental problems. Additionally, entrepreneurs and investors are gaining support though this non-profit to lead businesses in this direction.
The truth, however, is that sustainability metrics are still being standardized and measurement tools are still developing. Though we are still learning to define what sustainability means within the corporate context, it is important to recognize that there is a trend for companies to act better by society via People-Planet-Profit principles. We will refer to examples of these trends as “the dimensions of doing good.”
Dimensions of Doing Good
Companies are more frequently concentrating efforts on these dimensions:
- Establishing a respected corporate culture
- Setting high standards for human resource conditions
- Producing socially responsible products/services
- Aiding and engaging with the community
- Adapting to global climate concerns
- Being attentive to the natural resources they consume
Many of these trends are addressed by setting social and environmental standards, measuring the life-cycle of corporate impact, and enforcing transparency across the company. A huge opportunity exists for companies to enhance their businesses by leveraging these dimensions.
Please share your experiences and perspectives from the workplace and amongst the brands you admire, and join us over the next several months as we explore these dimensions of doing good. We will welcome guest bloggers Valerie Koppell and Darin Winter, both founding members of Clarkston’s “People-Planet-Profit” industry focus group.