Sustainability is [actually] a destination, not [just] a journey

wind turbine at sunset

"Sustainability is a journey, not a destination!" Such pragmatic thinking about business transformation is a common mantra amongst consulting and advisory firms. (This one included.)

Many businesses are slowly getting to grips with the enormous challenges presented by the environmental and social sustainability agenda. There are certainly some leading lights, but for most, the necessary transformations are still seen as ill-affordable costs to the business and something to be tackled once a more financial stable foothold is gained.

So when it comes to sustainability, it’s best to at least make a start [on the ‘journey’] and build on your small successes, rather than think too big, get so overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge, then give-up or be shut down by the CFO.

But it’s also true to say the opposite: sustainability is actually a destination. To be sure, it’s quite a journey to get there, but you can actually arrive. There is a point at which a business can legitimately say, "we are sustainable”. Sustainability is not just a journey, but is - demonstrably - a destination.

This business will operate in a space where inputs and outputs are aligned with natural processes and non-extractive material flows, waste is eliminated, downstream suppliers are aligned to this too and the customers’ enjoyment and disposal of the product causes no harm.

This is a Future-Fit business, a sustainability framework created through a collaborative process by the Future-Fit Foundation, a not-for-profit based in the UK.

Future-Fit Business Benchmark

Creating system value

A Future-Fit business must, in the first instance, be one that does no harm to social and natural capital stocks, whilst building financial value. It must transform from creating only shareholder value to one that creates shared value.

But it shouldn’t stop there. Recognising we are already pushing beyond planetary boundaries, businesses must aim to become restorative and create system value.

Our current corporate paradigm incentivises businesses (actually, it legally enforces them) to create only shareholder value. Many of today’s financially profitable businesses are those that have privatised the benefits and socialised the costs; i.e. pushed them on to the environmental, the community or future generations.

The more progressive businesses of today are those that aim to optimise shared value, where private benefits are pursued, but costs are either partly mitigated or offset by beneficial actions elsewhere in the community.

System value is generated when the operations of a business add social benefit to the community and starts to rebuild the natural environment.

The Future-Fit benchmark is not an anti-growth agenda. The framework is agnostic around ‘economic growth’, at least in the traditional sense. Instead it focuses on how ‘growth’ can be achieved in economic welfare and social and natural capital.

That said, the framework is a direct challenge to extractive resource and fossil fuel industries, drawing in Circular Economy principles of closing the loop on material flows. It is impossible for fossil fuel extraction companies to fulfil the Future Fit Business Benchmark, meaning these businesses must either fundamentally transform their operations or simply cease to exist.

Transforming your business

There are many compelling reasons to green-up your business and Altus Impact has the expertise to help you drive this transformation through your organisation.

In addition, in mid-2017 Altus Impact will launch an online business sustainability programme, designed to help business owners and sustainability champions to drive their organisation towards the principles of creating system value. 

If you interested in being involved in beta testing of the product, please contact us.

Future-Fit business benchmarks

Environment: Physical Resources
  • Energy is from renewable sources
  • Water is used in an environmentally responsible and socially equitable way
  • Materials derive from sources that respect the welfare of ecosystems, people and animals
Environment: Operational Presence
  • Operational emissions do not harm people or the environment
  • Operations emit no greenhouse gases
  • Operational by-products are repurposed
  • Operations do not encroach on ecosystems or communities
  • Products do not harm people or the environment
  • Products emit no greenhouse gases
  • Products can be repurposed
  • Customers are informed about any aspect of products that may cause harm
  • Customer concerns are actively solicited, impartially judged and transparently addressed
  • Employee health is safeguarded
  • Employees are paid at least a living wage
  • Employees are subject to fair employment terms
  • Employees are not subject to discrimination
  • Employee concerns are actively solicited, impartially judged and transparently addressed
  • Community concerns are actively solicited, impartially judged and transparently addressed
  • Suppliers are a special case: a company is considered mutually accountable for the operational impacts of certain types of supplied goods and services.

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