What it means to be sustainable in a fast-changing business world

Dec 19, 2019
  • utilities
  • textiles
  • retail
  • professional services

by Ian Greenhalgh, UK  managing partner 

Sustainability is once again high on the agenda in the boardroom. In a world driven by the need for instant fulfilment and widespread consumerism, there is a growing counter push towards environmental conservation, a need to balance the drive for profits with green values, and a drive to offset the immediate requirements of today, with the requirement to build a model that survives and thrives over the long-term.

It is a tough ask but also an issue in which every business needs to engage. Today, we see three critical focus areas: the environmental impact of the business, the need to create a sustainable, long-term business model and, last but not least, building a sustainable workforce. All three are key elements that any organisation intent on becoming truly sustainable over the long-term needs to proactively address.

The environmental impact of the business

There is much that organisations can do right now to address the environmental impact of their core business activity, such as considering energy use. Businesses migrate to the cloud in order to reduce their environmental footprint, as there is an assumption that cloud computing solutions will bring about a reduction in energy usage. The reality is that moving to the cloud does not necessarily warrant this as data centres often use significant amounts of electricity. Consolidating servers and storage and turning off idle IT systems offer a potential way forward.

The need to create a sustainable, long-term business model

Businesses today also need to urgently concentrate on cutting emissions and running smarter workplaces. This growing focus on environmental preservation is leading to renewed interest in corporate social responsibility and the pursuit of socially responsible policies. 

But organisations do need to concentrate on more than just reining back the environmental impact of their core activities; they also need to ensure that their business model is sustainable in itself.

Building a sustainable workforce

Digital transformation also typically means disruption though. A priority for organisations is to ensure their HR and workforce can sustain themselves in the face of this disruption, which has now become the norm.

New technologies, workforce trends and changing demographics are all disruptive and HR must not only be adaptable and reactive in order to drive operational efficiency, but must also deliver better employee experience, therefore ensuring a happy, productive and more sustainable workforce. Building a sustainable workforce will only ever really work, however, if everyone in the organisation understands the approach and is committed to it. High-level sponsorship and advocacy is key.

These three areas – environmental footprint, a business model that supports longevity, and a sustainable workforce are the core building blocks needed to build a truly sustainable business today.

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