Does Sustainability need to be at every level ?

Summary

The Economist Intelligence Unit published a report about best practices within which businesses are incorporating responsibilities into their operations. The second in a series of reports commissioned by HSCB, « Sustainable at every level? » includes many examples and cases studies to help us understand situations and find answers.

23Jan.
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The report reminds us that the financial crisis of 2008 was a « significant factor in the shifting of opinions on the role of business in society. Although it marked the start of a period characterised by corporate cost-cutting strategies (and therefore also a decline in benevolent activities), it also shone the light on unfair, unethical and irresponsible business practices, resulting in low levels of consumer trust »

To build a performing corporate social responsibility, companies need to study and evaluate their goals and needs. Many changes and evolutions need to be done to put more sustainability in business. This is why companies should cooperate with all the other stakeholders.

Jean-Christophe Laugée, Head of social innovation at Danone, argues that business are given a « licence to operate » by stakeholders, including governments and consumers.

They need to identify the ways in which their activities impact society. How do external factors affect their operations? How they can provide help and support to curb the inequalities caused by our society?

A Harvard Business Review article on Creating Shared Value argues that « the competitiveness of a company and the health of the communities around it are interdependent: both rely on each », says the report. « Companies need to studying all their interactions with society to find the ideal strategy and the best ways to invest.. This is doubly important because helping communities may reduce companies’ difficulties. There are many corporate examples bearing this out ».

Interviewed about the need to tackle the issue of water supply, Jean-Christophe Laugée points out that »a rapidly growing global population raises two big issues: first, the need to protect the watersupply and access to water; and second, to secure agricultural supplies in a sustainable and responsible manner. Both are crucial to the company’s ‘licence to operate’’.

Overall, there is an acceptance that incorporating responsibility into the core of the business is as yet in its infancy.

« If companies want to look beyond short-term financial results and towards their wider responsibility to the community, the environment and indeed employees they will need to build on these first steps and fundamentally change the way that they do business »,  says the report.

And there is no better solution than staff engagement at every level. « Although organisation-wide operational change will take longer to happen, it will happen », concludes the report.

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