9 Essential Principles of building a Sustainable Enterprise

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How much good is good enough?

The philosophy of doing good by doing well still seem all too altruistic for many companies around the world. Today, not even a single business can be said to be a truly sustainable business.

Even companies like Patagonia, Stonyfield farm, Interface Global, or Starbucks who have been at the forefront of implementing sustainability principles do harm – the only right thing they do is to be transparent to all its stakeholders about it and are trying honestly to move towards building a Sustainable Enterprise.

Sustainability does not live in silo

There’s not an overnight quick-fix silver bullet answer to the unsustainability of business – pollution, hazardous substances, fossil fuels etc. Companies do struggle to align their business objectives with forming their own standards and improving on them as they move along their sustainability path.

Sometimes, it becomes a kind of oxymoron when companies in the chemical, mining, fast food and other sectors proclaim to be on the path to being a sustainable business, when the inherent nature of the business is wreaking havoc to planet and people’s health.

Also read 4 Effective Strategy Framework for Sustainable Innovation

Ironically, it is the business that can undo the damage done by it self.

So, the philosophical structure of Sustainability that will emerge after the dust settles will be one not of a separate silo but an integral quality of the organization – of its processes and its products, along with being both ethical and responsbile.

Here are the 9 essential principles used for building a Sustainable Enterprise:

  • Suppliers, consumers and the important stakeholders such as NGO’s and environmental groups are increasingly being considered as whole systems part of the enterprise.
  • Increased transparency of the processes and materials by the companies via self regulation or via GRI compliant sustainability reporting.
  • Moving with product innovation and operational efficiency
  • Working at the beginning of pipe solutions rather than end of pipe solutions
  • Incorporating end-of-life at the beginning of the product design
  • Complete life cycle analysis along the supply value chain
  • Move towards renewable energy through solar and wind power
  • Reducing waste and emissions to reach a cradle-cradle manufacturing system
  • Working in the communities where the companies operate.

Having said this, while some companies are making genuine efforts, others just want to appear green in its stakeholder’s eyes, exploiting the gap that exists in the green space.

But in the long term, these Sustainable Business Development principles will have to be adopted by the businesses who want to stay in the business or else they will see themselves being shunted out of the marketplace.

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Comments

  1. I wish there was more government pressure on industry to become more sustainable. For example, all manufacturers should be responsible for taking back their product at the end of its use – when your iPhone dies, it goes back to Apple. That way, Apple is responsible for disposing of it. That puts pressure on the manufacturer to DESIGN the product in a way that a) uses less toxic materials, and b) makes it easy(ier) to recycle the product.

    I know that this a concept that is gaining traction in Europe. I’d like to see it here in North America.

    • Thanks for your comment Joce.
      Yeah, Product takeback is something that can have real long term impacts considering the entire life cycle. Reclaiming the materials in the used product is done in some of the industrial products, but to reach scale, it needs to happen in consumer products (like you mentioned for iPhone)
      In India, when a phone becomes obsolete, many people simply give them away to lesser priveleged people – maids, drivers, etc. ( and there are many). Instead of simply throwing it, I recently gave away my old…v. old Motorola phone.
      Here, even though the life of the phone gets extended, the ultimate take-back policy from the company will fail as the phone/product would’ve changed so many hands by then!

      • Good policies have to be adapted to the situation. Maybe in the case of India, there would need to be various drop-off locations which sort the products before sending them to the manufacturer. And in order to encourage people to return their products (rather than throwing them away), there could be a rebate on the next purchase when a product is returned.

        It would be great to see a (large!) developing market like India take that kind of “sustainability” step. Especially with something as potential toxic as electronics.

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