During my time in Chennai at the WBCSD annual meeting I had the opportunity to experience a corporate environment like one, I could never have imagined. Before this trip, to me the concepts of sustainability and corporate business were worlds apart, I assumed that businesses only had one motive and that was profit. I did not think sustainability and corporate businesses could exist side by side. Businesses want to create shareholder value by reducing costs and increasing revenues, these motives do not coincide with greener aims to protect and restore the planet. However, after an amazing experience in Chennai, my opinion on this changed. I saw multiple businesses that genuinely care about the environment and were on a mission to change this by implementing policies set out by the WBCSD. This sparked a personal interest of mine to deeper understand what motivates businesses to start transforming their business to be more sustainable.
The most apparent motivation for businesses to become sustainable is that they genuinely care about the people, the planet and the carbon footprint their business leaves behind. The new influx of managers and business leaders that are emerging are more aware of sustainable implications and consequences that arise when the planet is not being looked after. These new managers are more conscious to implement changes within a corporation so that the planet benefits when the business does. This increased awareness could have arisen from more research and understanding across businesses and new managers about what is really happening to the world and how the natural resources are being depleted could have sparked a passion to implement change in the way businesses operate.
The second motive for businesses to become more sustainable is to improve the image of the company. This is because increasing numbers of customers becoming more conscious of their purchase decisions and are trying to become more ethical, where possible. This means that consumers are more likely to pay a higher price for an organically sourced, fair-trade and sustainable product rather than going for the cheapest option possible. This means that companies that produce sustainable products are likely to have increased brand image as they more popular than unethical products. This will lead to higher revenues from customers and increased investment from shareholders. This is great news for businesses as this could lead to business growth and profitability which would align the two goals and provide an explanation to why a previously profit motivated firm would take an interest in sustainability.
A third possible reason for why businesses are becoming more sustainable is that it will benefit its employees. Part of being sustainable is looking after employees and suppliers all the way throughout the supply chain. A lot of businesses use cheap offshore labour to manufacture their products, however, this can come with some bad press as it is associated with using child labour, poor working conditions and extremely low pay. If a company decides to look out for their employees, especially in developing economies it will transform the livelihoods of these workers. This again will reinforce positive company image and improve the corporate social responsibility but will also be the morally the right option for the business to take. This also includes workers working in head office roles; if these employees are treated better then it is likely that they will perform to a higher standard, be more productive and efficient.
Overall, while it is important to consider the motives behind businesses becoming more sustainable their motives and intentions do not really matter – all that matters is that businesses, for one reason or another are waking up and putting sustainability higher up the list of their priorities. And at the end of the day, that is what matters.