4 Reasons Sustainability is Critical to Your Business Success

Purpose Readiness Work Culture

As more clients, consumers, and employees demand companies that care about and for the environment, sustainability has rapidly become a key indicator of future success. Future State’s Michael Gregor shares four of the top reasons why success + sustainability are inextricably linked.

BY MICHAEL GREGOR

Our work centers on helping clients prepare for success in any potential future, whether it’s readying for growth to scale, shifting organizational design, supporting culture and communications infrastructure, or accessing new opportunity through technology or process. Although it’s not always the first strategic consideration that comes to mind, environmental sustainability is a critical component of a comprehensive plan for future success. Companies with business models that make use of renewable resources, that are ahead of the curve on environmental regulations, and that design strong and responsible supply chains will be a step ahead of the competition as business shifts into the next century. Every indicator shows that the next generation of customers, clients, and talent will increasingly demand these companies.

Here are the top reasons environmental sustainability is inextricably linked with business success today—and why it will become more important every year.

1. Ensure a livable future: The biggest reason to care for our planet is pretty obvious: So that we as a species can continue to thrive on it. We have a moral and ethical obligation to each other, future generations and other species to sustain this place. When we don’t act responsibly we are choosing to exacerbate the problems future generations will face. The choices we make right now have a direct impact on the future—that’s a serious responsibility.

Sustainability is also critical if we hope for our businesses to survive. Organizations that want to be around 100 years from now need to plan for that long-term success today. One example: Building a sustainable supply chain. Where do raw materials come from now? Where will they come from in 20 years? 50? Having a sustainable operations models puts an organization far ahead of the competition—a certain, ever-growing business advantage.

Just as we think about long-term sustainability in terms of business models, succession planning and leadership development, our interactions with the natural world are equally vital to long-term success. Are you setting yourself up to last? Statistics indicate that fewer and fewer companies last for decades. The ones who prioritize long-term sustainability in addition to short-term success are the ones who will win tomorrow.

2. Nature is the best designer: There is no more elegant or efficient designer than nature. In nature, there is no waste. Everything fuels something else—an unending cycle of life, death and rebirth. Nature has been successfully evolving, transforming and finding new ways to succeed for eons. What better design to emulate? Zero-waste is a high bar, but it is the gold standard. And it’s not impossible. Many companies have already been experimenting and succeeding in the world of zero-waste. Mohawk Flooring is a good example. While making carpet out of recycled plastic bottles, the organization diverts 17 times more waste than it generates. Now that’s sustainable design: A reliable supply of raw resources, and a closed-loop manufacturing process.

Many other designers and organizations experiment with mimicking nature. Biomimicry is a design philosophy that revolves around creating nature-inspired innovations and solutions to complex human problems. The Biomimicry Institute helps bring biomimicry to educators, organizations and individuals across the world. Or take “Cradle to Cradle” design: the idea that human systems should model nature’s processes of circulating nutrients in healthy and safe ecosystem. Certified Cradle to Cradle products achieve quality in material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness. In short, their manufacturers seek to make things in a way that leaves the world a better place for future generations.

3. Build resilience: Every hedge against a potential future problem increases an organization’s inherent resilience. All kinds of interesting things are happening in systems thinking and municipal planning around resiliency. For example, how will our coastal cities recover faster from the next hurricane? What’s needed to help cities cope with rising sea levels? What do we build right now to prepare for future disasters? This is all part of the sustainability discussion, and business is a big part of it. Incredible opportunities exist for collaboration among business, government and civil society to plan for the unpredictable.

We can also build internal organizational resilience with sustainable design. A closed-loop system ensures the future availability of raw materials, and onsite waste management eliminates current and future landfill or waste diversion expenses. In some industries it’s today, in some tomorrow, but eventually it will be most cost-effective in every industry to operate without waste. These are the business models that are going to win in the marketplace of the future.

4. Business as a force for good: People who care about the environment have long been changing light bulbs, buying local, recycling, composting food scraps and buying electric vehicles. When business does the equivalent it accomplishes so much more. Future State is a certified B Corp—the B Corp community comprises thousands of businesses worldwide that are committed to the idea of business as a force for good, including environmental impact.

Many of our clients are also committed to sustainability as a business value, and they’re some of the most successful companies in their fields. Clif Bar & Co., as a great example, has a “simple” mission is to create a business that thinks like a tree. The company says, “Trees run on 100 percent renewable energy, recycle all waste, and sustain and improve the places they grow. Think like a tree is more than a metaphor—it’s a model for thinking sustainably. Nature has a lot to teach us.”

The company builds sustainable and fair-trade supply chains, advocates for organic agriculture, and supports research about sustainable farming. It recently built a one-of-a-kind, sustainability-focused facility in Twin Falls, Idaho, that uses biophilic design (a cutting-edge approach to connect people in buildings with nature and well-being).

Clif Bar & Co., B Corps, and so many of our other clients and colleagues are committed to considering what’s beyond the bottom line: Impacts on the planet and community.

Being a company that’s prepared for any potential future is tough. There are many factors to consider. If your organization is in need of analysis or support on long-term sustainability and readiness for success, please contact us. We’ve been pushed to deeply investigate our own organization with an eye for long-term sustainability and have the expertise and experience to help build resiliency for your future state.