Seven challenges for sustainability

I had an email from my investor today.

He asked me a key question:

“Do you really do sustainable development as a positive business opportunity?”

He’d been reading the latest Harvard Business Review, which has a piece on sustainability in it.

I was tempted to reply “Obviously, that’s why you invest in my business!”.
But he and I both know that when we started out with Ethical Corporation, CSR, as it was then, was all about defensive risk management, for 95% of big companies.
My colleague, copied on the email, chipped in with a reply:
“Very very much so”, he said. “Pretty much every conference we do covers how a sustainable business can develop business advantage over unsustainable businesses. It’s a fundamental tenet of every show we do”.

I wanted to temper this a bit, and communicate back some of the complexities of the business case argument.

After all, as David Vogel has said, there is not a business case for every aspect of CR, all the time.
So my reply tried to note some of this in a simplistic way, so I argued that:
  1. Risks and opportunities vary hugely by industry
  2. The issues often involve complex trade offs
  3. Governments are confused about what to do
  4. Implementation is patchy, some firms leap, others dawdle
  5. Incentives are mixed, at best
  6. Expertise is lacking
  7. Technology and  transparency are key, but move faster than big companies keep up with 
But I didn’t want to be negative about the future of my business, and my ‘industry’.
And I wanted to have one overall message as to why the business case, messy though it is, does hold true if you look at it broadly, and with the right timescale.
So I concluded that, ultimately, there is a business case for sustainability, because:
“Almost everyone wants it to happen. So it will, over time”.
That’s a simple summary, but I think it’s the most appropriate one, if you want to have a catch all business case.

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