Corporate sustainability is fundamentally anchored in three pillars: economic, environmental, and social. These are vital components in achieving a truly sustainable business model. Often, this is encapsulated under the ESG principles. ESG stands for 'Environmental, Social, and Governance', representing the critical areas companies assess to determine their environmental and overall sustainability performance.
What are the 3 pillars of corporate sustainability? Why is corporate sustainability important? And how can your company implement an effective corporate sustainability strategy?
What is corporate sustainability?
Corporate sustainability aims to create a balanced and valued business by integrating financial, ethical, environmental, and social strategies.
The essence of a successful business lies not in emphasizing just one area, but in addressing economic viability, environmental responsibility, social equity, and ethical governance to ensure consistent results. This holistic approach is captured by the term 'corporate sustainability'.
What is sustainability?
Sustainability, when contextualized within the realm of companies, refers to the practice of conducting business not just for immediate profitability but with a long-term perspective that encompasses environmental, economic, and social considerations. It's the recognition that companies are integral parts of broader ecosystems, and their operations can have profound impacts on these systems, both positive and negative. Sustainable businesses are aware of the interplay between their actions and the environment, society, and economies in which they operate. They prioritize strategies and practices that ensure longevity, reduce harm, and even create positive impacts in these areas.
As our world grapples with pressing challenges such as climate change, resource depletion, and social inequalities, sustainability has emerged as a crucial corporate responsibility. For companies, it means embracing policies and practices that meet current needs - be it for resources, labor, or markets - without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet theirs. This might manifest in various ways: investing in renewable energy, creating products with longer lifespans and lesser environmental footprints, ensuring fair labor practices, or engaging in community development. In essence, corporate sustainability shifts the business paradigm from short-term gains to long-term viability and communal well-being.
👉 To learn more about why environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues are important to a modern-day business, why not check out our article.
Sustainability in action
Want a real-life example of sustainability in action? Let’s take a look at Amazon - how does a company like Amazon consistently uphold the tenets of sustainability?
Central to their approach are the three pillars of corporate sustainability: environmental, social, and economic.
Environmentally, Amazon has committed to combating climate change. They've outlined ambitions to curtail water consumption, innovate in packaging to minimize waste and transition entirely to renewable energy sources by 2025.
When addressing the social dimension of corporate responsibility, Amazon showcases a multifaceted approach. Its global platform has democratized access to a vast range of products and services, connecting sellers from one corner of the world to buyers in another, thus fostering a more interconnected global community. Beyond commerce, through initiatives like AmazonSmile, the company supports charitable organizations, allowing customers to contribute a portion of their purchases to causes they care about. Furthermore, Amazon has invested in workforce development, offering training and upskilling programs to its employees. By recognizing the importance of both its global consumer base and its expansive workforce, Amazon actively contributes to the social pillar of corporate sustainability, aiming for a positive and lasting societal impact.
Economically, Amazon has significantly boosted growth, particularly in the United States. Beyond reinforcing cultural and capitalist events like Cyber Monday following Thanksgiving, Amazon stands out as a top job creator, having generated more employment opportunities than any other U.S. company in the past decade.
These strategic endeavors by Amazon not only bolster each pillar of corporate sustainability individually but collectively, where the advancement in one area positively influences another. This holistic approach has solidified Amazon's global success and sustainability.
What is the difference between corporate sustainability and corporate social responsibility?
Corporate sustainability emphasizes a company's holistic success, ensuring that while the business thrives, its consumers also benefit from its products or services. On the other hand, corporate social responsibility (CSR) focuses on operating with a primary concern for the well-being of society and its consumers, often placing their interests above pure business gain.
While CSR prioritizes fostering equality and addressing environmental and social challenges, corporate sustainability incorporates these goals and also invests in the economic pillar, seeking a harmonious balance between profit, people, and the planet.
👉 Head over to our article on CSR to learn more about this business ethos.
What are the 3 pillars of corporate sustainability?
The three pillars of corporate sustainability encompass the environmental, social, and economic dimensions.
The Environmental Pillar of corporate sustainability reflects a company's commitment to minimising waste and its carbon footprint. Frequently in the spotlight, this pillar intertwines closely with the social and economic dimensions. Adopting eco-friendly practices can often be more cost-effective, drawing in and benefiting consumers who prefer environmentally conscious products and services.
Yet, environmental stewardship isn't merely about external practices. A company's internal culture plays a vital role. The values, beliefs, and behaviours fostered within the organisation can either empower or hinder its environmental initiatives. When employees are aligned, educated, and passionate about sustainability, they drive more innovative solutions, make proactive green choices, and collectively elevate the company's environmental performance. In essence, a strong internal culture is the backbone to realising meaningful environmental change.
The Social Pillar of corporate sustainability emphasizes a holistic approach to the well-being of all stakeholders, encompassing consumers, communities, and, critically, employees. It underscores the ethical responsibility of businesses to ensure that their operations have a positive, empowering impact on society at large.
Central to this pillar is the fair treatment and empowerment of employees. This encompasses not just decent wages, but also a healthy work environment, opportunities for professional growth, and benefits that cater to their overall well-being. Practices such as offering comprehensive maternity and paternity leaves, ensuring adequate rest with vacation allowances, and promoting flexible work shifts contribute to a supportive workplace culture.
Moreover, the Social Pillar extends to a company's supply chain. It demands that businesses be vigilant about the practices of their suppliers, ensuring, for instance, that they reject exploitative measures like child labor.
Beyond internal operations, it's about how a company interacts with its wider community. This might involve community engagement projects, support for local education, or initiatives that promote local culture and well-being.
In essence, the Social Pillar champions the idea that for a company to be truly sustainable, it must be an active and beneficial participant in society, fostering growth, equity, and well-being for all its stakeholders.
The Economic Pillar of corporate sustainability delves into the financial stability and long-term viability of a business or initiative. At its core, for an entity to be sustainable, it must achieve and maintain profitability, ensuring that it can continue to operate and contribute value to its stakeholders.
Within this pillar, aspects such as risk management play a pivotal role. This involves meticulously analyzing and understanding the potential financial implications of various business decisions and investments. It's not just about immediate profitability, but also ensuring that these decisions align with long-term growth and don't jeopardize future financial stability.
While some might refer to the economic aspect as the 'governance pillar', it's crucial to differentiate between the two. Governance often concerns the ethical conduct, transparency, and decision-making structures of an organization, while the economic pillar focuses more directly on financial health and strategy. Both, however, are intertwined in ensuring the overarching sustainability of a company.
💡 Each of the three pillars of corporate sustainability demands equal focus and commitment to ensure the holistic success of a project or business.
👉 To learn more about the differences between ESG and CSR head over to our blog.
UN Global Compact - 5 things recommendations for sustainable companies
According to the UN Global Compact, there are five critical steps sustainable companies must embrace to achieve enduring success:
Principled Business Operations - At the foundation, a company should operate with integrity. This means having a clear mission paired with genuine motives while respecting both employee rights and consumer values. True corporate sustainability is elusive if foundational principles like human rights, anti-corruption, and labour laws aren't inherent in a company's ethos.
Society-Strengthening Initiatives - Companies must possess a broader vision, transcending mere financial or individual gains. They should consider how their offerings or actions can serve the larger community. Success is challenging in a society marred by issues like poverty or resource disparity. Thriving businesses are often reflections of thriving societies.
Leadership Commitment - The ethos of a company is often a mirror of its leadership. If a CEO doesn't embody the spirit of mentorship or motivation, it's challenging for the rest of the organisation to operate with passion or efficiency. True leaders are not just visionaries but are agile, and willing to adapt policies, even if challenging, to enhance corporate sustainability.
Progress Monitoring - Regularly reporting and assessing one's strides in corporate sustainability is paramount. Such introspection allows businesses to discern effective strategies, ensuring the alignment of operations with sustainability goals.
Local Action - Sustainability isn't one-size-fits-all. Companies should tailor their mission and initiatives based on their operational locale. For instance, while Amazon's Cyber Monday deals might bolster its economic pillar in the U.S., would the same tactic resonate in New Zealand? Companies should be rooted in the communities they operate in, making dedicated efforts to understand, engage, and partner locally to bolster sustainability.
Why should your company promote corporate sustainability
The concept is straightforward: By proactively emphasizing corporate sustainability today, a company can ensure a more effortless path to long-term success.
Promoting corporate sustainability is not just a strategic move for companies; it's a vital one for the modern era. Adopting sustainable practices can lead to operational efficiencies, reduced costs, and a competitive edge. As consumers become more environmentally and socially conscious, they increasingly opt for brands that align with their values. By integrating sustainability, companies not only address these consumer demands but also foster brand loyalty and trust, enhancing their reputation and market positioning.
Moreover, embracing sustainability goes beyond just immediate financial gains. It ensures long-term resilience by mitigating potential business risks associated with environmental and social challenges. Companies that prioritize sustainability also attract top talent, as professionals today are keen to work for organizations that demonstrate a commitment to positive societal impact. In essence, corporate sustainability is a forward-looking approach, essential for both present success and future viability.
How can you align your company with corporate sustainability?
Strategy and sustainability should align
Integrating sustainability into a company's core strategy isn't just a noble pursuit; it's a strategic imperative for modern businesses. When these two elements align, sustainability initiatives move beyond isolated efforts and become ingrained in every facet of the company's operations. This synergy ensures that decisions at every level, from procurement to marketing, reflect a unified commitment to sustainable practices. As a result, the company not only addresses environmental and social concerns more effectively but also builds trust with stakeholders and consumers.
Furthermore, a strategic alignment with sustainability often reveals new opportunities for innovation, efficiency, and market growth, bolstering the company's long-term success and resilience. In essence, making sustainability a central tenet of a company's strategy ensures that its corporate sustainability goals are not only set but achieved and exceeded.
Cater to your market before getting competitive
For a company aiming for corporate sustainability, understanding and catering to its market's values is crucial before delving into competitive positioning. Just as in cooking, where the essence of a great dish lies in the quality of its ingredients, the foundation of a successful business lies in its alignment with its market's core values. By ensuring that sustainability practices resonate with both consumers and investors, a company sets a strong foundation.
Once this alignment is achieved, it's much easier to build and emphasize a competitive edge. After all, a business that starts by genuinely meeting the needs and values of its audience lays the groundwork for long-term loyalty and success.
Aim for transparency
Transparency is pivotal for any company striving for corporate sustainability. By candidly sharing both successes and failures, a company not only fosters trust but also creates growth opportunities. Constructive feedback and open dialogue often arise from such honesty, enabling the business to address shortcomings and capitalize on strengths.
Furthermore, transparency builds a bridge of trust with employees and customers alike. In an age where information is at everyone's fingertips, being forthright and genuine is essential. When a company is transparent, it signals its commitment to integrity and accountability, two key pillars that underpin long-lasting corporate sustainability.
Collaborate with other Companies
Collaboration with other companies can be a game-changer for corporate sustainability. When businesses come together, they pool resources, knowledge, and expertise, often leading to innovative solutions that a single entity might not have reached on its own. Collaborative efforts can scale up sustainable practices, set industry standards, and share best practices, ensuring that sustainability initiatives are more impactful.
Moreover, collaboration fosters a sense of collective responsibility. Instead of competing on the basis of sustainability, companies can work together to tackle global challenges, such as climate change and resource scarcity. Through these joint ventures, companies not only enhance their own sustainability profiles but also drive the entire industry towards a more sustainable future.
Look after your employees
Prioritizing the well-being of employees is foundational to corporate sustainability. A nurtured and satisfied workforce not only ensures operational efficiency but also fosters a positive company culture that drives innovation and commitment. By investing in their employees' growth, health, and job satisfaction, businesses are better equipped to navigate challenges, adapt to industry shifts, and maintain consistent growth.
Moreover, companies that are recognized for their commitment to their staff often attract top talent, enjoy lower turnover rates, and benefit from enhanced brand loyalty among consumers who value ethical and sustainable business practices.
What about Greenly?
At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required.
If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.
Green-Tok, a newsletter dedicated to climate green news
We share green news once a month (or more if we find interesting things to tell you)
In this article, we'll explore the insights from the Greenly Scientific Council's Annual Review on carbon accounting, sustainability, and ESG strategies, highlighting the evolving trends and practices in sustainable business.