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Sustainability Mythbusters Part IV: Sustainability Is a Fad

dewis, andy, schneider electricWelcome to the Sustainability Mythbusters series presented by Schneider Electric. In this six-part series, Schneider Electric’s Global Sustainability Services team explores common misconceptions related to the topic of sustainability and presents a business case to “bust” each myth. (For more in the series, see parts I, II, and III.)

Rubik’s Cubes. Pet rocks. Break dancing.

The list of popular fads that have come and gone over the decades is a long one. It’s a list that also extends into business with various management styles or marketing pushes briefly occupying the ‘hot spot du jour’ before being relegated to a short footnote in the history books. But there’s one word you’re not likely to ever see added to that list of has-beens: sustainability.

For starters, the concept of sustainability in a business sense – the triple bottom line of profits, people and the planet – has been around for decades. Such a philosophy likely predates the formal and most widely accepted definition of sustainability which was put forth by a United Nations commission on sustainable development back in 1987. This perspective looked at sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising those of the future.

In that sense, many successful businesses have always practiced sustainability; maybe not by converting their fleets to run on biodiesel or installing solar panels, but simply by running as efficiently as possible and reducing waste. They were sustainable well before sustainability became cool. And running a business efficiently is no fad at all.

Unlike other business fads that have flashed in the pan, sustainability has endured, in large part because its benefits are real and lasting. In fact, considering business efforts following the economic collapse in 2008, sustainability has persevered with many companies integrating sustainability efforts as part of their core strategies. Rewards like lower energy costs, reduced waste and more efficient transportation impact the bottom line in real and measurable ways. Sustainability has also become an important branding component that resonates with consumers who value environmental friendliness, philanthropy and corporate social responsibility in the companies they do business with. Companies committed to sustainability end up building long lasting, beneficial relationships with those kinds of loyal customers.

What sustainability has also become in recent times is a real nexus point between two topics in business: efficiency and responsibility. It is the overlap of these two areas, neither of which are trendy terms or fads in business. Companies who integrate sustainability effectively weave it throughout the entire organization so that it becomes an underlying driver for every function, from real estate and procurement to communications, marketing, sales and beyond.

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2 thoughts on “Sustainability Mythbusters Part IV: Sustainability Is a Fad

  1. Very interesting and true picture of sustainability through myth buster articles. I fully agree that sustainability cannot work in isolation or vacuum. It requires commitments, support and the engagement of all across the company. The major challenge is to create a buy-in for the concept at each level.

  2. Granted, if Sustainability is defined as ensuring a business can be sustained, then it has been around ever since businesses were established. Unfortunately, modern businesses often jump on the Sustainability bandwagon as it has taken on a green tinge, referring to ecological sustainability. However, for many businesses, this is more about marketing than considering what is in the economists canon referred to as ‘Externalities’. No corporation that intends to maximise shareholder returns and C-level management bonuses (their raison d’etre) will voluntarily consider those externalities (such as degradation of the natural environment) unless forced to do so. The (seemingly successful) demonisation of the carbon price in Australia is testament to that. Evidence for this approach is all around us. So, notwithstanding the laudable efforts of some (as long as it doesn’t hurt the bottom line), Sustainability has gone down the path of other terms commonly bundled under the heading ‘greenwashing’.

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