MT Masterclass - sustainability

What is it? Wouldn't it be nice if the 'take it, make it, throw it away' economy could be transformed into something less destructive, something that might actually last into the next century and beyond?

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Welcome to sustainability - the idea that if we (or rather our grand-children) are to survive, we'd better start thinking about the long-term impact of our businesses. We need profits to survive, but if we kill the planet in the process, that survival won't be worth sticking around for.

Where did it come from? Primitive societies lived in harmony with the environment. Civilised ones have started to destroy it. But while sensitive types have always worried about the 'dark, satanic mills', it was only in the last decades of the 20th century that the green movement made an impact with calls for more sustainable business. In 1987, John Elkington founded his SustainAbility consultancy, and his 1997 book Cannibals with Forks advanced the concept of the 'triple bottom line': economic prosperity, environmental quality and social justice. Sustainability has proved a handy catch-all heading. Management consultants claim that their work will prove sustainable - that is, more than just a flash in the pan.

Where is it going? Sustainability is winning unexpected advocates. Even if President Bush can't see it, other businesses are getting involved, with calls in the US for economy-wide carbon emissions regulation from Ford, DuPont and General Electric. GE stunned the cynics with its recent commitment to 'Ecomagination' - $1.5 billion of investment into cleaner technologies. 'And we plan to make money doing it,' said CEO Jeff Immelt.

'Increasingly for business, "green" is green.' If GE starts making money by thinking clean, watch the sustainability bandwagon (a low-emission vehicle) pick up pace.

Fad quotient (out of 10)

Eight (and rising).

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