Playing By Earth’s Rules:Corporate Sustainability Basics
“There is no industrial company on Earth that meets its current needs without, in some measure, depriving future generations of the means to meet theirs. When Earth runs out of finite, exhaustible resources, or ecosystems collapse, our descendants will be left holding the empty bag.” Ray Anderson, Chairman, Interface, Inc., in the company’s Sustainability Report.
Businesses consume vast amounts of resources. For example, U.S. businesses inefficiently use 30 million trees and 12.5% of all domestic electricity annually. Construction accounts for 55% of non-fuel wood use, and worldwide, buildings account for 40% of energy and materials use (Worldwatch report “A Building Revolution: How Ecological and Health Concerns Are Transforming Construction”).
Not only does inefficient resource use result in resource depletion, environmental degradation, and pollution, but it also costs companies an enormous amount of money, or potential profits, each year. This can be deadly for a company since it dramatically reduces its competitive edge.
The Economy/Environment Link
Some companies are beginning to understand these issues and are changing the way that they do business. Sustainability is a term familiar to many, but corporate sustainability may not be. Corporate sustainability is achieved when a company works within Earth’s resource limitations and according to the laws of nature.
A strong economy depends upon a healthy environment because our economy is based on the extraction, processing, and use of natural resources. Businesses that want to increase their competitive edge and survive into the next century using natural resources must play by the earth’s rules. For instance, in nature there is no waste; one organism’s waste is another’s food. Nature is full of closed loop systems that feed into one another. Businesses tend to operate in a more linear fashion, generating waste at nearly every aspect of their existence. If businesses only take, if they do not focus on regenerating the resources that they use, eventually, the planet will run out.
Of course, some resources, such as coal and natural gas, cannot be regenerated. Therefore, it is important for companies to look to other resources, those that are renewable, in their everyday operations. Even most resources that are considered to be renewable take some time to be replenished. For instance, trees can grow again, but they may take several decades to reach maturity. If their growth and extraction is poorly managed and the proper conditions for their growth are not present (e.g., healthy soil), they may not be a renewable resource at all.
Greening Your Company, Inside and Out
In order for your business to practice corporate sustainability, you must focus not just on your company’s external behaviors (its processes and material flows, product life cycles), you must also pay attention to its internal behaviors. Creating a healthy and efficient workplace is an important aspect of this. In-house purchasing of better office supplies, resource-efficient behaviors, and the development of recycling, telecommuting, and other programs all contribute to the overall health of the workplace.（http://www.ecomall.com）