Want to become a more sustainable business? Start by investing in your purpose

One of the more popular words in business and higher education circles in 2022 is “purpose.” Many colleges and universities have realized that they can no longer compete with the financial value of two-year programs as many employers have loosened the four-year degree mandate. Some are no longer trying. Instead, the viability of these institutions relies on offering something beyond a credential. “Purpose” has become the new way to offer values-based education and provide students with more than a pathway to economic prosperity. In 2022, a host of colleges and universities will teach their students how work can become a vocation, a calling that puts food on the table and improves the community.

 In the business environment, we might call purpose “sustainability.” Whether we produce automobiles or provide outsourcing services, all our businesses share a responsibility – a calling – to “do good” on behalf of our communities and all stakeholders. Tangible and measurable action on sustainability also leads to investment growth, engaged employees, and a healthier business. 

A Definition

Bear with me while I use my own company to define sustainability. I do this because I genuinely believe our definition, if activated, will have an impact.

The intent of Accenture’s approach is straightforward: everyone within the organization must have “some skin in the game” to make the sustainability plan effective. Ideally, our employees – and yours – also model sustainable practices in their personal lives and have the tools to do so. 

What is a sustainable business?

We collaborated with the World Economic Forum on research to understand how to shape a sustainable organization. We identified the critical elements needed to embed sustainability throughout an organization and create lasting value and equitable impact for all stakeholders. Four key findings emerged:

  • Operating sustainably has become a competitive advantage, but unlocking its potential relies on building strong stakeholder relationships
  • New research reveals significant consensus gaps between leaders and stakeholders on sustainability performance. This misalignment obstructs the link between sustainability and profitability.
  • Executives must strengthen their organizations’ Sustainability DNA through a three-stage cycle of change: Diagnose, Define and Develop.
  • By closing consensus gaps and operating more sustainably, businesses can deliver greater financial value in tandem with positive environmental and societal impact.

Governance – The Forgotten Facet of Sustainability

Now more than ever, our businesses are under the microscope, that is, beneath the discerning eye of stakeholders, customers, and the larger community. How we source materials, manage supply chains, compensate executives, and hire within an equitable framework says a lot about our corporate ethics. Do we tap into the gifts and passions of older adults? Do we give all the members of our teams a voice when considering what’s next with the corporate mission and vision? Are those in leadership proactive in mentoring the next generation of leaders? These things matter to stakeholders, customers, and the larger community.

Governance practices are part of the sustainability equation. NACD points out that the SEC’s emerging climate audit framework is a contemporary example. Because stakeholders want accountability for the climate-related risks produced by the businesses within their investment portfolios, the SEC will soon “open the book” to promote sustainable actions.

Toward Purpose

Ultimately, sustainability is about pondering and cultivating purpose. Businesses recognize their well-being, and how they promote community well-being ties to their success as much as if not more than their role as providers of goods and services. At the intersection of “do no harm” and “adding value” is the raw material for your organization’s sustainability plan. Seek community and team input and refine your plan where needed. The community is also the customer (even if not directly); businesses must align their products and services to match their stated purpose and then work to shift human behavior to use greener, more planet- and people-friendly offerings.

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