Environment, business, impact

Sustainability Matters

By Mark Odegard

We live in a world with finite resources, a rapidly changing climate, and increasingly global interdependence. The impact of our decisions and actions now extend beyond ourselves and immediate surroundings. More than ever, we need to think broadly about our impacts – we need to take action on sustainability.

As of 2018, nearly 70% of people across 26 countries surveyed view climate change as a threat, making it the top threat facing the planet.1 The planet has already crossed “350 parts per million – the safe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”2 – and global temperatures will likely exceed a 1.5 degree Celsius increase by 2030. These two changes will create significant changes in our natural environment, requiring changes in approaches to agriculture, water conservation, and human migration and housing amongst other things. It will also change the way businesses operate: in terms of human resource availability, access to natural resources for production, energy consumption, transportation, and the stability of markets.

Adopting effective sustainability practices now can help your business adapt more quickly and protect your long-term financial health, while also having a positive impact on our environment and our communities. Leaders are often reluctant to focus on sustainability, first wanting to understand the business case before taking any action.

But the business case is already quite clear. According to a 2014 Global Consumer Confidence survey conducted by The Conference Board and Nielsen, “81% of global respondents feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment.”3 It is important to remember that all the people surveyed are consumers.

And consumers have expressed a willingness to pay more for products produced by sustainable brands. A 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability report showed that among “over 30,000 consumers in 60 countries…66 per cent of them [are] prepared to pay more for sustainable brands.”4 The percentage for Millennials was even higher – at 73%. The 2015 result was an increase of 11% over 2014 for all consumers, and a 23% increase for Millennials. These numbers have undoubtedly increased over the past four years, meaning an overwhelming majority of consumers value business focused on sustainability.

The success of brands like Patagonia, Danone, Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s, and other companies demonstrate consumers’ interest in supporting companies focused on sustainability. In fact, the same 2015 Nielsen report showed that “sales of consumer goods from brands with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability have grown more than 4% globally, while those without grew less than 1%.”5 The benefits are so significant that there are over 3,000 companies across 150 industries in 64 countries that have defined themselves as a B Corp, making a legal commitment to consider their impact on workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.

For over 3,000 companies the business case is obvious. If you are still not convinced, the Business Roundtable decision to follow B Corps’ lead and recently redefine the Purpose of a Corporation6 – ending the notion of shareholder primacy and committing to support all stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, and communities in addition to shareholders – should remove all doubt.

The stark reality is that focusing on sustainability is now table stakes for all businesses, and those who continue to ignore consumer demand do so at their own peril. A strong and healthy environment is critical to sustaining strong and healthy communities, and both are needed to create a healthy and vibrant economy that supports businesses. One cannot exist without the others – they are all part of the same system.

It’s time to act. Let’s get to work.

Overwhelmed? No worries, we’ve got this! For the Good.

1 Pew Research - Global Threats

2 350.org - CO2 emissions and Global Temperature Increases

3 Nielsen.com - Global Consumer expectations

4 Sustaincase.com - Nielsen 2015 Global Sustainability Report

5 Nielsen.com - Sustainable brand sales growth

6 Business Roundtable - Our Commitment

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November 16, 2023

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