HR: What's in a name?
When will we ever learn?

Sustainability. What is it and how do you ensure it?

Sustainability is a word we hear more and more everyday. Why? Because we fear for our future as climate change and the threat to our environment pervade all areas of our lives. Yet, it is rather unfortunate that this has only come about due to a looming crisis.

This means that, helpful though the proliferation undoubtedly is, you may define the term too narrowly. If you do you will focus exclusively on the environment and may perpetuate one of our past mistakes.

It is perhaps one of life's great ironies that the more progress we make and the more "civilised" we become, the less in-tune we seem to be with nature and our environment. It is perhaps unfortunate that, even now as we recognise this, we fail to fully appreciate the true nature of sustainability.Sustainability

You see the one thing our forebears understood and that we don't, is the mutual dependence that underpins sustainability. Webster's Dictionary may tell us that sustain means "To provide for the support of; to supply with sustenance: To maintain, or cause to continue, in existence or a certain state, or in force or intensity; to keep up; prolong: To bear up from or as from below; support the weight of," but at best it only implies this interdependency.

Why is this important? Obviously it is important because business is the primary way in which we use natural resources and thus business has a vital role to play in sustainability. More importantly, though, it is because all our commercial undertakings have an existence and a purpose that outlive us. Thus the interdependence is actually between the business and the environment. People are merely the link between the present and the future.

This has profound implications for the way we should be approaching things. It means that the following conditions all apply:-

  • The purpose of the organisation is paramount;
  • The purpose of the organisation is to adapt and survive in a manner that optimises it use of natural resources;
  • The people who work for the organisation have to honour and commit to these.

More succinctly this means that sustainability and business sustainability are one and incorporates the interdependence of the organisation with the wider world. This can only be achieved if there is total employee engagement with values that are clearly articulated, effectively communicated, and totally bought into by the employees. Employee ownership will enhance this and ensure the forces that hitherto have worked against sustainability no longer have the power they did.

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