Sustainability in Business (With Definition and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 April 2022

Concerns in society about climate change, pollution, poverty and loss of biodiversity continue to grow. Because of this, many people have adopted sustainable lifestyles and generally support businesses that have a corporate sustainability plan in place. If you have an interest in sustainable business, it can be important to understand sustainable development so you can create operational efficiency that's both profitable and considers future generations. In this article, we discuss what business sustainability is, explore its three core pillars, share why it can be important, detail sustainability strategies, review its benefits and list some jobs in sustainability.

What is sustainability in business?

Sustainability in business is when a business embraces sustainable practices and policies in its business model. The sustainability theory concedes the planet's resources have limitations and aims to overcome the depletion of these resources. Having sustainable strategies in place can allow a business to deliver its products or services in a way that contributes to economic growth with a minimum negative impact on the environment and its communities.

The 3 pillars of business sustainability

Corporate sustainability initiatives commonly focus on three major areas:

Environmental sustainability

Many businesses require natural resources to operate. These resources can include land, water, coal and gas, many of which can take a long time to regenerate. Environmental sustainability typically focuses on reducing a business's carbon footprint to help reduce climate change, and respecting the regeneration cycles and scarcity of natural resources. The most effective environmental sustainability strategies are typically those that are in effect throughout a business's supply chain. Environmental sustainability commonly involves waste and energy reduction and the use of sustainable materials and products.

Social sustainability

Businesses have not only an impact on the environment, but they can also affect people, communities and society in general. Because of this, an important element of a sustainable business typically includes a high level of social awareness and responsibility. Social sustainability within a business focuses on human rights and diversity. It can involve ensuring the business provides equal opportunity and fair remuneration, and taking initiatives to support the welfare and safety of employees, customers, stakeholders and the broader community.

Related: Guide to Workplace Diversity: Meaning, Benefits and Tips

Economic sustainability

There's usually significant pressure on businesses to generate profits quickly, but being sustainable requires a longer-term focus. Economic sustainability focuses on promoting economic growth, but in a way that doesn't harm the environment or society. It can involve reducing the use of natural resources, such as adopting the use of renewable energy. Business leaders commonly implement economic sustainability strategies gradually over time.

Why are sustainable businesses important?

Some businesses, especially large global corporations, can be incredibly influential. The choices that the executives in these types of businesses make can significantly affect society. The public is placing growing pressure on businesses to implement sustainable practices. Governments, taxpayers and shareholders typically want to see businesses showing consideration for people and the planet. Businesses that fail to implement sustainability practices can face the considerable risk of losing people's trust.

A sustainable approach to business is important for more than just its positive environmental effects. Integrating sustainability can contribute to the overall financial success of a business over the long term. While investing in sustainable practices might cost money initially, these practices can help to reduce expenses over time. According to a multitude of studies, some of the most sustainable businesses are commonly some of the most profitable businesses too.

Sustainability strategies for businesses

In a leadership role, it can be part of your job to create, implement and monitor sustainability strategies. Many strategies relate to the specific nature of the business, the resources it uses and the products it produces. Below, you can find some general sustainability strategies that most business leaders and managers can implement:

Limit over-production

Overproduction is generally a result of a supply and demand imbalance. It's a significant contributor to excess waste. There are several factors that can cause overproduction, including excessive procurement and unnecessary stockpiling. Fortunately, modern business intelligence software that offers efficient analysis, forecasting and monitoring makes it easier to limit overproduction effectively.

Related: What Is a Production Manager? (With Career Steps and FAQs)

Procure ethically

Sustainability goes beyond the business itself and extends to its suppliers and their practices. To help a business become more sustainable, it can be imperative to gain an understanding of their suppliers' labour policies and their extraction and production methods for raw materials. Building relationships with ethical suppliers can promote sustainability throughout the business's supply chain.

Related: What Is a Procurement Manager and What Do They Do?

Become a paperless office

Transforming to a paperless business can be a fantastic way of reducing a business's carbon footprint. Because of the rise of technology and the internet, this is a far easier strategy to implement than it once was. There are many technological solutions for replacing paper. These may include customer relationship management software as a replacement for paper filing cabinets and accounting software for paperless billing.

Reduce single-use plastics

Workplaces can churn through a significant amount of single-use plastics such as bin bags, coffee pods, dispensable water and coffee cups, water bottles and single-use kitchen utensils. Reducing plastic use in an office space can help to minimise the amount of it that ends up in landfills. As the world becomes more sustainability minded, the number of plastic alternatives grows. Reducing single-use plastic in a business can be as simple as providing employees with filtered water and paper cups as opposed to water bottles.

Recycle wherever possible

There are many things businesses use each day that can be recyclable, from paper to plastic to metals and even whole computers. Developing a recycling culture within a business entails encouraging staff and providing things like strategically placed recycling bins with advisory notices. Business managers can also consider introducing refillable ink cartridges and rechargeable batteries, for example. Businesses may also choose to work with their suppliers to ensure that supplies and packaging are made of recyclable materials.

Optimise utilities

The use of utilities, such as water and electricity, is typically high in office spaces. One way of implementing sustainable practices into a workplace is by investing in environmentally friendly utilities. While this can entail some upfront expenses, it can reduce the expense of future utility bills and reduce environmental harm. You could consider energy-saving light bulbs, solar power or water heating and efficient air conditioning. Organisations that are building new premises or refurbishing old ones can build sustainability into many design elements, such as passive climate control and grey water recycling.

Benefits of corporate sustainability

There can be many benefits of corporate sustainability for a business and its employees. Below, you can find a list of some of the most common benefits:

  • Positive contribution: A major benefit of corporate sustainability is the opportunity to do good and contribute positively to society. By implementing sustainable strategies, a business can take part in safeguarding the planet for generations to come.

  • Competitive advantage: Many consumers prefer to support businesses that consider their impact on the environment and make use of sustainable methods. A sustainable business model can also promote brand loyalty.

  • Increased productivity: A by-product of sustainable corporate practices can often be seamless processes and operational efficiency. This can mean higher output and overall business productivity.

  • Reduced costs: While improving a business's sustainability can come with upfront expenses, it commonly reduces a business's expenses over time. The increased productivity business's can experience when introducing sustainable measures can also significantly decrease operational costs.

  • Investor and employee interest: Society, especially Generation Y and Z, typically likes to associate with businesses that respect the environment and their people. Showcasing a business's sustainability efforts can attract like-minded employees and investors required for expansion.

Related: What Is Corporate Culture?

Sustainability jobs

There are several jobs you may consider that focus on creating sustainable business operations. Below, you can find some popular jobs that focus on business sustainability with their average salaries and primary duties:

1. Sustainability consultant

National average salary: $92,646 per year

Primary duties: A sustainability consultant usually works temporarily for a business to create sustainable solutions that can increase its sustainability without impeding its growth. They conduct research into a business's carbon footprint and general business operations to identify areas that require improvement. These consultants develop and present strategic sustainability plans to business leaders and major stakeholders. They may also educate and train employees on primary topics that relate to environmental, social and economic sustainability.

2. Sustainability officer

National average salary: $58,594 per year

Primary duties: Sustainability officers continuously evaluate factors which affect a business's performance, such as its profits, workforce and its outlook on sustainability. It's usually part of their role to work with all employees across the organisation to champion sustainability initiatives. While sustainability officers help a business reduce its carbon footprint, their role also has a large focus on creating better working conditions and developing and implementing enhanced safety protocols.

3. Environmental manager

National average salary: $92,168 per year

Primary duties: Environmental managers oversee a business's environmental performance. They create, implement and control environmental strategies that promote sustainable business operations. Environmental managers commonly develop plans for waste reduction, renewable energy and pollution management. They ensure a business complies with national and state environmental regulations and may assess, analyse, collate and report data to regulatory bodies, the business's employees and its customers.

Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.