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Sustainability Is Now the Only Strategy for Business Success

In business, you need to be prepared for the future. Declining markets, fickle customers, and rising costs threaten the balance sheet that you have carefully nurtured, but these are just the day-to-day challenges in a longer push to succeed.

What can you do to ensure your business survives for the next 15 years? The next 50? The predictions for our future are dire; more heatwaves and polar vortexes, dwindling resources, mass civil unrest, political turbulence, water shortages, and more.

For companies around the world, focusing on sustainable development — ensuring the future resilience of people, planet, and prosperity — has been a key part of their business strategy. Forward-thinking businesses recognize the world is changing, but rather than being led by this change, they are driving it in a positive direction.  

The only option

We are seeing sustainability move away from being just one of many business strategies. It is becoming the strategy. In the future, successful businesses will be sustainable businesses. Businesses that take account of risk management, reporting, and compliance across financial, social, and environmental factors, will be the ones that thrive.

Successful businesses will also recognize that sustainable development presents growth opportunities. Consider the digital divide and how bringing online the half of the world not currently connected will garner new consumer bases. Society is already looking to companies for change, both to their current practices and as leaders in the absence of government action.

How can businesses mitigate environmental, social, and economic challenges? How can it take advantage of the resulting opportunities, which could be worth as much as $12 trillion a year if the Sustainable Development Goals are achieved?

Here are some tips on how to do just that:

Exploit places where goals overlap

FedEx increased fuel efficiency in its air and truck fleet by 22 percent and 35 percent respectively, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 1.5 million metric tons, improving air quality, and saving over $300 million on fuel. In another example, companies with better gender balance have proven more profitable than their counterparts. Take advantage of free resources like WBCSD’s CEO Guides, the SDG Compass, and the SDG Business Hub to help identify these opportunities.

Use opportunities created by sustainable development

Sustainability creates demand for new products (think organic foods and cleansers) and, in many cases, larger profit margins as green products sell at higher prices. There are many examples of this in the cosmetics industry. Natura sustainably sources ingredients from communities in the Amazon rainforest for its all-natural products and has experienced double-digit growth in recent years.

Teach sustainability in business school

Companies say they want new hires to understand sustainability but that it is absent from MBA programs. Student-faculty committees can integrate sustainability in curricula and business can request it as part of executive training. This will ensure tomorrow’s leaders are equipped with the skills they need to thrive in tomorrow’s challenging environment. See the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education for guidance.

Share your progress

Reporting tools are your friends! Transparency is increasingly necessary, not just from a regulatory perspective but from a stakeholder perspective. Start by checking which reporting frameworks apply to you on the Reporting Exchange. The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and the Global Reporting Initiative are other good resources.

Anyone can be a champion of change and your business doesn’t have to be a multinational company (although it certainly wouldn’t hurt) to make a difference. From working with local suppliers to instituting recycling, every decision you make today can be good for both the world business.

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