Sustainability matters. We have already reached a point at which, if we stopped all emissions this moment, the effects of climate change would be felt by generations.
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The average global temperature has risen 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.1 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times. We are dangerously close to a 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in global temperature, which would significantly affect things like:
- Our food chain
- Sea levels along coastal areas
- The ability for diseases to spread
- The ability to produce hydroelectric energy
It is up to every individual, corporation, and organization, big or small, to do its part to stop climate change from going any further. And employees and consumers expect sustainable companies to step up. They are demanding this level of commitment, not only when it comes to climate change, but also in terms of ethical business practices. Millennials will make up half the workforce by 2020 and 87% of them believe business success should be measured by more than just financials.
Fortunately, there are a number of sustainable companies in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world that have stepped up and made significant changes in terms of sustainability. There are companies that are doing some good work out there. A whopping 85% of S&P 500 Index companies published sustainability reports in 2017.
This gives us hope that things are shifting toward global corporate sustainability. In light of that, there are lessons we can learn from these sustainable companies that can help our own companies be accountable in making the changes needed for a healthier environment.
Here are the top three lessons your business can learn from the most sustainable companies:
1. Hire a CSO
The Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) is a relatively new role in the C-suite, but it has become increasingly important. Many of the biggest sustainable companies have committed to tasking the CSO with overseeing their sustainability efforts. This person is responsible for developing and implementing a sustainable strategy that includes compliance, efficiency, innovation, and increasing corporate commitment.
Companies that have a CSO include the likes of IKEA, Dow Chemical, Nike, Adidas, and H&M. These established companies had to make a shift in their executive structure, but there are sustainable companies, like Reformation, that are incorporating the CSO role from the beginning. However, it’s not enough for the CSO to simply oversee what employees and departments are doing. Instead, they need to play an active role in business operations by:
- Sitting at the table and participating in business operations and decision-making at the same level as other C-suite executives
- Being actively involved in areas of the company where sustainability can create value for the company and the environment
- Being aware of company culture, what employees care about and what motivates them so they can create and implement change that speaks to the staff
- Keeping sustainability manageable, taking it one step at a time
- Push C-level to adopt the mentality that shifting to sustainability will increase competitiveness and the bottom line
2. Take a systems-wide approach
Part of helping companies and their C-level executives get onboard with sustainability is to take a systems-wide approach. Companies and the people who run them need to change the way they think about business operations and lowering costs. It’s about investing in sustainability now and seeing the financial benefits in the future.
One way to do this is to look at increasing efficiency across the entire company, rather than being concerned with cutting costs in each part of the company. After all, the system works together as a whole. So, if more is invested in one area of the company to increase overall efficiency and costs, it’s worth it.
Again, this is a major shift in mentality from the traditional “cut costs, increase profits at every corner” approach, but it’s something many companies are beginning to do. One example is Zhangzidao Fishery Group in China, which has adopted a method of production that embraces a balance of numerous species, rather than focusing on one species and profiting via economies of scale.
3. Take everything back to the source
Ford Motor Company is a great example of taking everything back to the supply chain, which is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions and climate change. To tackle this issue, Ford established stringent requirements of all its tier-one suppliers to ensure that their corporate environmental and ethical values were being honored right down the supply chain. Ford works with their suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint and meet energy efficiency targets.
Ultimately, businesses play a significant role, not just when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, but in implementing overall sustainable practices that will result in a healthier planet. With many sustainable companies jumping onboard, there are some great examples of what can be done to increase corporate sustainability. It is critical for all companies to take a close look at these examples of sustainability and learn the lessons that will help them improve their own operations at every level.
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