Making Sustainability Work

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The scope of corporate responsibility is changing, and sustainability efforts are no longer limited to companies like Ben & Jerry’s. Today, large organizations must consider the social, environmental, and economic impacts of their actions. Operating in accord with sustainability principles is now seen as a way to add to shareholder value. Organizations are grappling with how to make sure day-to-day activities meet sustainability goals that will eventually improve their financial performance. In Making Sustainability Work, Marc J. Epstein and Adriana Rejc Buhovac provide a framework for an organization to develop and implement a sustainability program, and they provide guidance on measuring the impacts of the program so that the organization can continually improve its sustainability efforts while improving its bottom line.

With careful planning and stakeholder buy-in, sustainability-improving the impacts a corporation has on the environment, economy, and society-can be turned into a competitive advantage. There are several best practices companies should adopt for their sustainability programs:

1. Sustainability includes all the social, environmental, and economic impacts of a corporation’s operations. With proper measurements and analysis, a corporation can implement a plan that mitigates impacts, satisfies multiple stakeholder groups, and improves the corporation’s financial performance. The Corporate Sustainability Model is designed to help managers understand the cause-and-effect relationships that result from aspects of the sustainability program.

2. Support for a sustainability program begins at the top. The board and CEO must show commitment for sustainability efforts and help move the concepts into the corporate culture. Their endorsement can also help the corporation get various stakeholders-stockholders, employees, customers, and community members-to support the program.

3. Sustainability practices should be integrated into all business functions to make meeting sustainability goals a system-wide effort. For instance, procurement can work to find sustainable sources of supplies and engineering can devise ways of manufacturing that require less water or produce less waste.

4. Sustainability costs and risks must be integrated into decision- making. The current and future costs and benefits of any sustainability efforts need to be measured and tracked. Any environmental, political, or other risks related to sustainability also need to be analyzed and factored into each decision.

5. Organizations must measure and evaluate sustainability performance when evaluating individual workers, teams, facilities, and business units. By focusing on sustainability performance, the company emphasizes the importance of those goals and provides feedback on how to improve sustainability efforts.

6. An organization must find ways to measure its social, environmental, and economic impact on society to improve management decision making. Such measurements can be difficult, but several methods are available to help the organization determine the value of its efforts.

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