Sustainable Business Practice – it’s BIGGER than you think!

7 Jul

I recently attended an IEMA Sustainable Business Practice workshop and was struck not only by the enthusiasm of the participants, but also the wider impact of sustainable development principles on business strategies and operations. These interactive sessions running across the UK complement IEMA’s previous research in this area, aiming to raise the profile of the environmental and sustainability professional, to understand how we can lead, shape and contribute to sustainable business practice, but also to identify and highlight business opportunities and threats arising from sustainability issues.

As a group, there were around 25 of us representing industry, local government and sustainability professionals, we were tasked with discussing and answering three questions, the first of which on face value appeared quite a straight forward question: ‘how will your organisation’s business strategy be influenced by major environmental challenges?’

Okay – initial thoughts? Individually we spent 5 minutes considering this and then discussing in our respective groups. First responses reflected on the nature and time scales of any impact on business strategy, typically the financial burden associated with increasing costs – energy and fuel for example, and the regulatory burden for some organisations which will also increase in the short term. For one manufacturing organisation present they had calculated that the cost of forthcoming European greenhouse gas emission limits would cost them approximately €150m over the next 10 to 15 years, so they are already planning changes to their business operations.

For smaller organisations who are suppliers to large corporate business entities, in the retail sector for example, these organisations are being asked to develop sustainable business practices or risk losing their contract. There appeared to be an increasing prevalence of supply chain pressure. And for the public sector bodies present, their strategies needed to consider the actual and potential costs of maintaining local infrastructure and the vulnerability of the services they provide to their local community. For example the costs of repairing and maintaining buildings and property affected by flooding.

British Safety Council is not immune either and we should also be aware of the impacts of environmental change. Whilst first thoughts may be the immediate short term impact of rising fuel bills and the operational costs of delivering our services, our business strategy should also consider how we service our members and, more importantly perhaps, the actual advice and training we provide.

Sustainable business practice is not simply looking internally at how we operate and ensuring we operate effectively and efficiently. It also means that in everything we do, what we say, and the services and support we provide, in everyway, we should consider how this contributes to the sustainable business practices of the organisations we work with.

Sustainable business practice is not an issue to plan for in the near future, it’s already here – right now, affecting all organisations – and its significance and impact on how and what we do can not be overstated

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