Sustainability makes economic sense

Sustainability makes complete economic sense – which is why a growing number of companies are viewing sustainability as not just key to making our planetary resources last, but also as vital to the long-term viability of their human capital and financial performance, says Tjaart Coetzee, an associate director and Centre of Excellence lead for Sustainable Development at Johannesburg-based MAC Consulting.

No longer the buzzword it once was, the concept of sustainability is now being enthusiastically embraced by forward-thinking companies. As part of their strategic trajectories they have realised they are going to have to do more – especially if they want their people and profits to stick around for the long haul. In particular, they have integrated sustainability with business strategy and operational practices.

Diagnosis is one thing; providing workable solutions another. More often than not, solutions demand input and insights from a specialist – one who boasts a wealth of experience in this highly specialised field; one able to assess the current status of an organisation’s sustainability, and consequently develop a bespoke plan.

My own approach would involve what is termed the Six Capitals model, which looks at the following aspects of a company:

* Financial capital (profit / loss);
* Manufactured capital (e.g. buildings and equipment);
* Human capital (employees);
* Social capital (societal interaction);
* Natural capital (resources and environmental impacts); and
* Intellectual capital (such as intellectual property, processes and systems).

The end result is a complete overview that covers all of the factors that an organisation requires to do business. An organisation needs to evaluate how its activities and interactions result in negative or positive impacts on these “capitals”. From this point an integrated plan can be developed in line with the company’s overall business strategy.

The human factor is often the elephant in the room. When it comes to certain aspects of sustainability – typically those linked to climate change – one tends to come across the educated, the ignorant or uneducated, and those who are contrary just for the hell of it.

The uneducated or contrary will argue that sustainability is for the “greenies”; that it’s a craze centred on conspiracy and hype. What they fail to appreciate is that sustainability has broad long-term applications – applications that generate benefits for a wide spectrum of society.

Energy is a prime example. Energy prices have already doubled over the past five years and are set to increase further, translating into reduced real disposable income. Therefore, optimising energy use, in addition to paying for itself, is a long-term money saver – nationally, institutionally and individually.

In short, the journey of implementation is often a journey of convincing. Be that as it may, the bottom line is sustainability, which, in turn, impacts the bottom line. And even for a hard-nosed businessman, that has to make good economic sense.

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