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What does sustainability mean to you?


Sustainability is one of those concepts that is talked about by a great many people and organisations, yet is often understood to mean many different things. For some, it means a range of issues that loosely fall under the banner of Corporate Social Responsibility – perhaps involving environmental considerations or charitable investments in the development of local talent. For others, it might be more about how companies balance their responsibilities to make profits, look after their people, and protect the wider society.



The UN’s Brundtland Commission of 1987 is often credited with crystallising the concept of ‘sustainable development’ and popularising its wider use. This report defined it as “development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This sprung from a growing consensus that businesses needed to become more aware of the full range of the obligations they have – not simply to focus on their bottom-line profits.



When businesses talk about sustainability, they are also often talking about their ability to survive over time; essentially how resilient they are to changing market conditions through their place in the wider economy and society. In this light, a great many factors can be considered relevant to sustainability – including a company’s engagement with its stakeholders, its reporting procedures, and the level of consideration it gives to the wider impact of its activities.



Sustainability in a business context can run against the grain of a traditional understanding of ‘good business’ in which considerations beyond profitability – social goals, for example – are seen as running counter to financial success. At the same time, while investments made into sustainable business can extend the time needed for return-on-investment, they can also have positive longer-term impacts on profitability – through, for example, enhanced recruitment and retention, improved public relations, greater innovation, and heightened ability to adapt to the environment they find themselves in.



What does sustainability mean for your organisation?

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