An appeal to relevant institutions (including the UN) to rewrite some elements of Sustainability
While we have an official definition from the UN (and many other definitions from other sources) of Sustainability, I guess no one has ever defined (officially) a Sustainable Organisation. It may simply be said that an organization that is working on Sustainability is a Sustainable Organisation. Or better, an organization that has committed to the SDGs, is a Sustainable Organisation. But both these definitions have flaws – I am committed to SGDs, or I am working on Sustainability doesn’t mean that I have achieved Sustainability or that I am a Sustainable Organisation.
This is where I started scratching my head.
Here are my initial thoughts. Most people in the world think of Sustainability and start thinking of the environment, CO2 etc. I say Sustainability of the overall business. And hence BCM is supported by Sustainability. A company cannot be sustainable if it cannot ensure the continuity of the basic minimum - hence BCM Implementation is important. A company cannot be Sustainable if its employees are not healthy - hence EHS comes into the picture. A company cannot be sustainable if it doesn’t bring in value (money) for its interested parties - hence Finance is required. A business cannot be sustainable if its employees are not happy - hence Employee Engagement also supports Sustainability. A company cannot be Sustainable if it does not utilise the resources optimally and if it doesn’t manage its carbon footprint, waste, emissions etc.
Then I spent more time debating, discussing, and documenting the rest of this article. I looked at it from multiple angles.
In the dynamic landscape of contemporary business, sustainability goes beyond the conventional purview, evolving into a complex tapestry of interconnected systems and domains. This article embarks on a comprehensive journey, delving into the nuanced facets that define a sustainable business. Beyond the conventional realms of Business Continuity Management (BCM), Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS), Finance, Employee Engagement, and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), we unravel the critical domains of Information Security, Cybersecurity, Environmental Management, Energy Management, and delve into the intricate web of resilience – personal, financial, IT, and organizational. By intertwining these elements, businesses can not only survive but thrive in an era defined by rapid changes and unforeseen challenges.
In Part I of the article, I will first present some cases of Sustainabilitywashing.
The League of Sustainabilitywashing Companies:
As eyewashing, greenwashing, and AIwashing are to be avoided, so is with Sustainabilitywashing and Sustainablecompanywashing. Here are some examples of bad business sustainability:
1. DTC – about 2 decades ago, Delhi Transport Corporation decided (it was forced) to shift from diesel to CNG as the fuel for its buses. The first message on the buses was kind of ‘..the pollution-free bus service..’ It was Sustainabilitywashing I believe. This was then changed to what is shown below:
Even this is not correct. CNG is better than Diesel by some means, but is it really Eco-friendly? I am not sure.
DTC has now been shifting to 100% electric buses. And there is sift or SWITCH in the message too:
Are electric vehicles really ‘smoke-free’ or produce ‘0% smoke’? The question is for all electric vehicles (may be extended to all countries). The following two points need to be considered:
a) The batteries are charged through electricity that is mostly produced using fossil fuel (mainly coal)! So, someone somewhere is producing smoke for you!
b) I guess no one has given enough consideration to the amount of waste these batteries are going to generate and the amount of smoke (of various types) the recycling of these batteries is going to produce! Do the cities, councils, countries, and the world have enough recycling capabilities?
2. Many hotels around the globe – leave this card on your bed ‘..if you want us to change your linen…’
This is hotel management’s intent, but this is not percolated down to the junior people e.g. the Housekeeping staff (who may be on contract). Having found such cards in my room, I had appreciated the hotels. But almost in 100% of cases, this was not followed. I left the card on my bed, but still, the sheets were changed. I did not leave the towel on the floor, but it was still changed. This is a big challenge in all programs in all organisations i.e. the message or the intent of the top management is not embedded in all (specially at the lower level). Where is the improvement point? Not at the junior level, it's top management’s failure! The housekeeping staff perhaps does not even know the meaning of the above card – how does it reflect as being a responsible hotel customer and a citizen etc.
3. Current hotel: I recently stayed at a hotel in Hyderabad. It would need about 15 minutes to drain the water before I could get hot water in the tap! I attempted to ask and understood that it was due to the solar water heater on the rooftop. Their claim of a 24-hour hot water supply was correct – but the water in the pipelines would get cold and would need draining before the hot water supply would commence in the rooms! Is the hotel really working or supporting Sustainability! To their surprise, on the other hand ‘..sir, no one ever has asked such questions…’!
4. All companies – many companies have been publishing their carbon footprint data for some years. But, if they did not change their calculation methods during and after Covid-19 Pandemic period, then they are in the league of Sustainabilitywashing companies. Their carbon footprints might have shown great dips because the electricity consumption was reduced greatly as the employees were working from homes. Truly speaking, companies must pick up large numbers of carbon emissions from employees’ homes – that’s why a change in calculation methods is recommended. Also to mention is a fact that the employees’ homes will be less energy efficient compared to offices – even that must be factored in such calculations. If the companies reduced their carbon emissions because of reduced travel of the employees, then they are indulged in Double Sustainabilitywashing!
As we navigate the intricate landscape of business sustainability, it becomes imperative to discern between genuine commitment and mere surface-level gestures. Part I of this exploration has shed light on instances of 'Sustainabilitywashing,' where businesses may fall short in aligning their actions with their sustainability claims.
The League of Sustainabilitywashing Companies, as exemplified by cases such as the transition from diesel to CNG or the selective implementation of eco-friendly practices in hotels, underscores the challenges of translating high-level intent into tangible, widespread impact. It raises questions about the authenticity of sustainability efforts, prompting us to scrutinize beyond the advertised messages.
In Part II (to be published in a week), we will delve deeper into diverse perspectives on sustainability, examining reporting mechanisms, exploring intersections with Business Continuity Management (BCM), Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS), and delving into personal resilience. The journey from Risk Management to Organisational Resilience and its alignment with the UN SDGs will be central to our concluding View3.
The goal is not just to criticize but to spark meaningful conversations and reflections. As we strive for a more sustainable future, we must go beyond rhetoric and address the nuances that define a truly sustainable organization. Your engagement in this discourse is not only encouraged but essential. Stay tuned for Part II, where we will further dissect the multifaceted dimensions of business sustainability.
(Part II is now available at https://www.damandevsood.com/post/what-is-a-real-sustainable-company-part-ii)