SustainAbility’s latest research, Sustainability Incorporated: Integrating Sustainability into Business, explores how practitioners can integrate sustainability into the core of their businesses.
Many companies claim that sustainability is embedded in their DNA or sits at the heart of their business. The reality is that very few corporations have fully integrated or embedded sustainability into their business models. While corporate sustainability programs have made much progress on reducing carbon emissions, conserving water and improving labor conditions, few programs have broken out of the sustainability silo and been embedded into the company’s main strategy to form a fundamental part of how the business creates value.
The need for integrated sustainability is urgent; in order to address today’s pressing global issues such as resource scarcity, climate change and inequality the private sector must integrate environmental and social considerations into every business decision. Embedding sustainability into business not only helps secure a sustainable future but it also benefits companies, enabling them to prepare for future risks, act on opportunities and create more value for the business and its stakeholders. And yet, we acknowledge the challenge that business faces as it operates within a larger global system of markets, policies and exchanges, which ranks financial capital above all other forms of value. This larger system discourages many attempts to integrate sustainability in ways that are material. We therefore see the need to integrate sustainability simultaneously into business and into our larger global systems.
“While many companies say that sustainability is embedded in their DNA, very few are truly integrated. Our latest research, Sustainability Incorporated, highlights 5 pathways practitioners can leverage to embed sustainability into the very heart of their companies,” explained Mark Lee, Executive Director, SustainAbility.
In Sustainability Incorporated we focus on ways in which business can integrate sustainability into its core strategies and business models. In order to do this, our research indicates that senior leadership is critical to making real progress. Yet even in the absence of such leadership, we see opportunities for sustainability practitioners at all levels to move ahead and engrain sustainability into the core business in different ways.
Through our research we highlight five pathways that sustainability practitioners can leverage to further integrate sustainability into the business. While these pathways are not the only ways to embed sustainability, they have proven useful for numerous companies and also align in practical ways with many of the existing responsibilities of practitioners.
- Employing business model thinking: Build an understanding of how the business creates value by creating a visual map of the business model
- Putting materiality to use: Focus and act upon key issues in ways directly tied to core business activity
- Applying a sustainability lens to products and services: Add a sustainability lens at decision-making points in product and service design lifecycles
- Tapping into culture: Understand aspects of the company’s culture that can drive sustainability outcomes
- Leveraging transparency: Use transparency and integrated reporting specifically to both drive and reflect integrated thinking
These five pathways are not the only ways to integrate nor is leadership the only critical support in the embedding process. The methods and means of embedding sustainability will be different for each company depending on its stage of integration, its culture, the issue being embedded and the external contexts. That said, our research shows these pathways have proven to be promising approaches to integrating sustainability within a number of leading companies, and we feature examples of integration leadership built on these five pathways throughout this report. We also distill lessons learned on integration from two regions of the world where we spotted particular dynamism and potential: South Africa and Hong Kong. We encourage practitioners to explore our findings, follow these pathways and continue their work integrating sustainability into business and into the broader global systems at play.
Download the report and let us know what you think.