Actualizing Sustainability starts with avoiding the Corporate Social Bullsh••.
After attending Almedalen (Almedalen is a week long event of the who’s who of Swedish politics, where political parties and businesses collide to discuss the upcoming year’s policies, commence in debate and drink rosé wine in the middle of the day) this year it was quite clear that there was a recurring theme throughout the week of seminars, and speeches, hosted by various NPO’s, NGO’s, business enterprises and political parties…
It even makes me feel like a better human being when I just write the word, a real buzzwords-buzzword.
But achieving true sustainability and sustainable development in business is a complex process not actualized by holding seminars, running pilot initiatives, collaborating with the WWF on a project, or adding a ‘sustainability’ section to your business website.
These are, of course, all elements within an overall corporate sustainability plan.
But, sustainability and the actualization of sustainable development, in business, are deeply rooted within company values, strategies, actions, reviews and adjustments. Moreover, sustainability’s platform for existence is reliant upon external entities, not always controlled by the business looking to realize sustainable action i.e. political entities and/or third-party actors.
Some have too, criticized the ideology of business’ sustainable development, as a subjective sense of what life should become in underdeveloped businesses or regions of the world (Gabay and Ilcan 2017).
This ideology suggests that actualizing sustainable development is a process of circumstantiality, and painting the picture of a sustainable future by the contours of one ideal, isn’t a realistic approach for businesses or political systems to take.
For example, the graphic below shows enrollment rate in primary education in the past years. Quality Education is number 4 of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and this graphic is a strong representation of the impact the SDG’s has made to create more opportunities for more “quality education”. However, whose vision of quality is this education measurable by? How can we be certain that this vision of “primary education” is one of pertinence to develop the livelihood of individuals in these areas of the world?
These are the questions we must ask in order to challenge the boundaries of worldwide sustainable development. Otherwise, sustainability’s actualization lies very much embedded within big data and charts, rather than physical development.
Kodiak Community Blog exists to challenge the commonalities of business, and create contemporary methods for commenting upon them, so I apologize if I’m pushing the boundaries of confrontational blogging. With that being said…
I want to ask you:
Is your business achieving true sustainable development, or just perpetuating corporate social bullsh••?
The Traditional Approach
Traditional visions of corporate sustainability development begin with talk of the 3P’s.
-People (Socially focused initiatives)
-Planet (Environmental focused initiatives)
-Profit (Economic focused initiatives)
Most corporate sustainability models define the middle area of the 3P’s as the area, in which, opportunities for corporate sustainability lies for every organization. With that being said, the constructs of those opportunities for sustainability is entirely contingent to the needs/wants/abilities of every business to realize individually, in order to create sustainable action.
Taking an all-encompassing approach to developing a traditional sustainability plan, requires a company to begin by defining what sustainability means for their organization holistically.
While a holistic approach can be positive, as it can help build comprehensible values that an entire corporation can stand behind, it can also be one of the greatest hindrances to sustainable development. Meaning, wide-sweeping approaches can breed vague, or half-baked, ideals of corporate sustainability.
A Traditional workflow process for developing a Sustainability plan looks like this:
· Understand the external environment
· Identify Activities and Impacts (social, environmental, economic)
· Measure impacts, establish baseline, benchmark
· Creating Long-Term Goals, targets and milestones
· Prioritizing, Selecting strategies and creating action plans (wnysustainablebusiness.org)
Within each step of the process, businesses must keep their unique ideology, in regards to the 3P’s, central within the creation of their sustainability strategy, action plans and realized initiatives.
Simultaneously, the development and execution of a sustainability plan requires relentless internal risk management, evaluation of performance indicators, corporate commitment, technology implementation and utilization, policy structuring/restructuring, leadership training, outlining of goals, stakeholder education and much more.
When it comes down to it, developing and executing a sustainability plan in corporations (especially global enterprises) is a daunting and tiresome task. It can take years of strategizing, collaborating, educating and financial expenditures. For this reason, our society has become subject and desensitized to the beast that we’ve created: Corporate Social Bullsh••.
Sustainability becoming synonymous with a brand’s name is one of the biggest feats a marketing team can achieve in building brand value amongst consumers.
“In a world where branding experts have long described an ideal situation as one where consumers perceive a brand as possessing human characteristics, advocates for sustainability can effectively leverage this concept to encourage more significant sustainable change within businesses” (sustainablebrands.com 2015).
In order to fill the, sometimes present, gaps in actual corporate sustainability performance, brand experts revert to populating media with declarations about their brand, using simplified buzzwords and claims about the corporations aspirations for sustainability.
This is a rather disingenuous methodology, but as a marketing and communications expert, I can’t help to envy brand experts who are able to make this rather half-baked kind of brand association, one that is received with genuine consumer loyalty.
However impressed I may be of the marketing legwork, the perpetuation of brand self-actualization can be damaging to the intrinsic values associated with corporate sustainability development.
The best first step to realizing true-corporate sustainability is to start avoiding the Corporate Social Bullsh••.
A task that must be led by business itself in order to lead by example.
Challenge, Comment, Create.
Until next week.