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What Is the Business Case for Sustainability?

In broad brush strokes, elements supporting the business rational for sustainability can be categorized into two basic areas: cost savings and enhanced brand reputation.

As a manufacturing company we are especially cognizant of the savings that can be realized by operating sustainably. Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and saving energy are not only good for the environment, but those savings drop straight to the bottom line.  Similarly anything we can do to eliminate waste and use materials more efficiently can create cost savings both in terms of purchased materials as well as avoided costs affiliated with disposal of waste. Regardless of the size or type of company you work for, material and energy savings are typically easy to quantify and monetize. These are the sustainability no brainers.

There are additional benefits to be reaped when companies focus on environmental and social responsibility efforts. For example, enhanced brand reputation strengthens customer loyalty and can drive preferential purchasing behaviors. I have seen this time and time again at my company. Given an equal playing field on cost and service, I see customers choosing our products because of our sustainability platform. Responsible companies want to buy from responsible suppliers.

Numerous case studies also show the positive impacts of employee engagement. Simply put, people want to work for companies that they can be proud of. Some experts claim this is especially true for younger generations. Employee satisfaction leads to more productivity, less turnover and allows companies to attract the best talent. While the reputational aspects are harder to measure and track in financial terms, metrics such as turnover or results from employee satisfaction surveys can help track the internal affects of a comprehensive sustainability strategy.

An investment in sustainability—people, planet and prosperity—is not only a form of corporate philanthropy, but is also core to how a company can succeed and prosper as a business. It can be an important part of an overall business strategy. And for good reason.

Having a robust sustainability strategy, in good times as well as in down markets, has been proven to significantly reduce operating costs, eliminate waste, create energy efficiency, lower costs, strengthen a company’s brand value and open up new markets.

Laura M. Thompson, Phd, is director of sustainable development and technical marketing at Sappi Fine Paper North America. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire and an M.S. and PhD in Paper Science from the Institute of Paper Science and Technology.  Since 1995, she has held a variety of positions within the paper industry including R&D, mill environmental, product development for specialties and coated fine paper, and, most recently, sustainability.  Since joining Sappi in 2006, Laura has quickly emerged as an industry leader in the field of sustainable development. This is reposted from The Environmental Quotient with permission from Sappi Fine Paper North America.  For more information, please visit Sappi’s eQ Microsite.  You can also follow @eQLauraThompson on Twitter.

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2 thoughts on “What Is the Business Case for Sustainability?

  1. A recent local example of the business case for sustainability:

    Rio Tinto Alcan recently closed their smelter in Ashington, Northumberland, UK. This was powered by their own coal-fired power station, and with the cost of emissions and of shipping coal halfway around the world, it was no-longer economically viable. Instead, they opted to keep their Scottish, Fort William smelter operational – despite the poorer rail / road connections. The Fort William plant is powered by hydro-electricity.

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