By Michael Richmond
It is becoming more popular to see a sustainability policy in the corporate statement or the company's website, but this eco-friendly statement should not be mere window dressing. The sustainability policy is a restatement of the company's new vision in light of the pressing issues of the day. Instead of treating these social issues as an addenda to the real mission of the company, the sustainability policy is a message to all stakeholders of the intention to bring these announced concepts into the daily operation.
Smaller companies are more fleet-of-foot and can adjust to change more adroitly than the larger company. Changing the direction of a large corporation means that everyone needs to be informed, and everyone needs to cooperate in the new direction of the company. To gain the easy support of the stakeholders (shareholders, management, workers, customers, and community), the sustainability policy is the tool that is used to explain the new direction and to show the value for the decision-makers for this change.
Sustainability policies can be brief or may be several pages long, but this is actually an opportunity to create or revisit the company's mission statement and clarify its goals in light of an environmentally-strained world and economy. Going Green is a business decision that has been properly characterized as "The Triple Bottom Line." The Triple Bottom Line (3BL) is stated as properly prioritizing: 1) Planet, 2) People, and 3) Profits.
The social dynamics of a company are now being brought front and center in the public psyche. We are hearing more discussion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which is a broad social concept inclusive of the environment, but goes beyond environmental issues. This is explained in the ethics of a business in the community it serves. It is "Doing the Right Thing" in business, the community, and the world.
This is a very arduous task, and the question is often, "Where do we begin?" Well, it starts with an inventory of the company's status and purpose in the market and community. Once time has been spent to discover the essence of the company and the best method of advancing the company's future, these principles are distilled into a sustainability policy. This rather brief restatement of the company's mission is the foundation for the more robust Sustainability Plan. This sustainability plan actually serves as a road map going forward in a socially responsible manner that makes allowance for a company to profit without fears of negative repercussions.
Preparing a sustainability policy is not as simple as copying the policy of another company from the Internet. The process requires the professional insights of a Certified Sustainability Officer. Basic training for a sustainability officer is invaluable in order to merge the needs of the business with the needs of the community. While environmentalism has seemed to be anti-business in the past, it is time to take the high ground on this argument and do the right thing while running a profitable business.
Smaller businesses might choose to go directly into a sustainability plan, because the process of decision-making and company direction is vested in only a few key people. Small and mid-sized companies that are controlled by executive decision rather than a board can incorporate Green and sustainable elements by planned improvements that include Green practices. Therefore, the sustainability policy is often viewed as optional. Regardless of the size of the business, the need to incorporate environmental considerations into the daily operation is an important and needful decision that should not be ignored.
After more than twenty years of anti-corporate sentiments and business bashing, businesses must realize that it is time to "take over the argument" and make it theirs. This is not only the smart marketing option, but a needful obligation that has been too long left to those who have no understanding or appreciation of the role and importance of business in society. Therefore, the need to step up to these socially-driven issues is not just a duty, but a chance to prove the value of business to the community and the world that it serves.
Michael Richmond is the director of the Green Business League, and primary trainer for the Certified Sustainability Officer program that trains in-house Green or Sustainability officers.