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May 15, 2023 Other Voices

Sustainability and profits should go hand in hand

Kanwalroop Kathy Dhanda

As we grapple with ever-changing global and domestic issues, it’s important to recognize that we each have a voice and, when working together, the opportunity to impose constructive, measurable change.

And while it may seem counterintuitive to look to large businesses and corporations to help us dig out, organizations that commit themselves to responsible behaviors can be strong allies in the effort to transform positive vision into action.

Most of the world’s largest economic entities are corporations, not countries. This immense power calls for greater responsibility, and society can hold global businesses accountable for their actions and results.

For this reason, companies need to develop and execute sustainability strategies that consider every dimension of the business environment: social, economic, cultural as well as natural.

Some organizations are altruistic, like B-corporation companies that use business as a force for good. Patagonia, for example, focuses on the environment and climate change, and now dedicates its profits to environmental sustainability.

Patagonia supports fair-trade practices and employee activism and produces products using naturally sourced and sustainable materials.

True sustainability is much more than a public relations campaign, or an occasional agreement for short-term gain. If sustainability is realized fully and well implemented, it can drive a bottom-line strategy to save costs; a top-line strategy to reach a new consumer base; and a talent strategy to find, retain and develop dedicated employees.

Consider climate change, which requires a multipronged global response. Governments and regulatory agencies must align public policy and investments that favor clean, renewable energy and wean themselves from heavily polluting or endangered resource- and energy-consuming industries.

Businesses ought to invest in natural capital, preserve natural resources and align reporting to reflect their social and environmental intentions and outcomes.

Embracing corporate social responsibility evokes the concept of triple bottom line (TBL). Company success needs to be measured along three lines: economic, social and environmental.

A related term, 3P, stands for people, planet and profits. According to this sustainability model, companies measure their impact not only on profits but also on the communities they serve and the environment.

With TBL, a business’s responsibility extends to all stakeholders, not merely its shareholders. It considers the company’s impact in terms of social and environmental values, along with financial returns.

Whereas traditional models are about making money and garnering profits, TBL accounting recognizes that business is unsustainable in the long run without satisfied employees and a clean environment.

Similarly, individuals should reflect upon personal consumption options and their impact on climate and the Earth. For example, Europeans are wandering more by rail than air, while many Americans are vacationing closer to home.

In a national survey conducted in late 2022 for Sacred Heart University, more than three-quarters of respondents (76.6%) felt corporate sustainability was important to them and beneficial to their community.

Ethical business practices, responsible economic development, social and environmental responsibility, and cultural diversity were the highest priorities.

TBL also considers human capital, which relates to fair and beneficial practices toward labor, the community and the region where a corporation conducts business.

Companies should pay fair wages and reinvest some of their gains into the surrounding community through sponsorships, donations or projects that go toward the common good.

Likewise, natural capital refers to a company’s environmental practices. Responsible businesses strive to minimize environmental impact in all areas — from sourcing raw materials to production processes, shipping, waste reduction, recycling and administration.

It’s a cradle-to-grave approach and, in some cases, cradle to cradle — taking responsibility for goods after they’ve been sold, such as offering recycling or take-back programs.

Companies seek a return on their investments by pleasing shareholders, attracting like-minded consumers or customers, meeting legal requirements, creatively recruiting and retaining employees and linking positive action and leadership to bottom-line results.

But ultimately, honest profit must be made in harmony with a company’s commitment to people and the planet, and be measured against actionable steps taken toward achieving and maintaining a more sustainable future.

Kanwalroop Kathy Dhanda is a researcher and teacher specializing in supply chain management and sustainable management at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.

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