The move of sustainability to become an increasing core issue

Wendy Sutherland, Managing Director at Ramsay Todd argues it’s been a long time in the making but the conversation has now truly started.
Whilst the definition is debated organisations have no choice but to demonstrate their credentials and compliance. 

We think of sustainability as being relatively new but it was on the agenda of the Stockholm Conference in 1972. It has however taken over 45 years to become something that is being actively addressed by both individuals and the corporate world. The definition of sustainability has been debated for decades but, we are now in an era where discussing what it means and why it’s important has moved to actually changing behaviours. We have learnt to consider how our actions impact on the environment and others but the biggest step change has been the infrastructure provided to enable us to contribute to the sustainability agenda.

So what’s changed? In 1987 the Brundtland Report defined sustainability using the concept of three pillars.  Initially the focus was on social aspects with priority being given to how we could support poor communities. Charities were adopted by organisations to demonstrate to shareholders in their annual reports that CSR was on their agenda along with CSR Polices and employing CSR specialists. Although social and economic aspects are important, the critical element is now seen as the environment, which directly impacts on the other two pillars.

The Brundtland sustainability model was seen as flawed by many because the pillars indicated separate and equal entities, which didn’t acknowledge the interdependencies. John Elkington’s concept of Triple Bottom Line Focus then appeared in 1994 outlining a different perspective;

  1. The Financial Result,
  2. Care for People (broader society)
  3. The Planet – the environment

The value society now places on sustainability is moving it towards being a core issue. Academics and scientists have done their work by getting governments to take notice. Public awareness has never been higher, which drives the behavioural changes needed to provide a sustainable lifestyle. Whether we like it or not, we are all part of the problem as well as part of the solution hence the reason for local Councils enforcing recycling to reduce waste going to landfill.

The introduction of legislation and the growth of global and government frameworks to address sustainable issues is ensuring that this subject is not going to go away. How many of the following are you aware of ?

  • The UN Global Compact
  • The Earth Charter
  • BS 8900
  • The Kyoto Protocol
  • ISO 14001
  • EMAS (European Eco-Management and Audit Scheme)
  • BSI PAS (Publicly Available Specification) 2050

Sustainability is now linked to; environment, development, education, procurement, fashion (apparently there is a sustainable style!), to name just a few. Qualifications are available at degree and masters levels for sustainable development and in 2016/7 the Corporate Ethics Mark awarded by CIPS (Chartered Institute for Procurement and Supply) included a section on sustainability.

Sustainability is now part of everyday life and consumer expectations are such that organisations have no choice but to demonstrate their credentials and compliance. This will hopefully deliver further improvements and developments to support the objective of preserving resources for future generations and making a better world for everyone. There’s a long way to go and it’s a big task but the conversation is at least underway.