Perhaps you’ve heard people talk of corporate sustainability and are wondering what that is. This article is for you.
What are the basic aspects of corporate sustainability?
At its most basic level, corporate sustainability involves companies working to change their business so that they can sustain a profit while not harming people or the environment.
Some companies phrase this more strongly as making money while enhancing the lives of people and improving the environment. People also phrase this as a triple bottom line: people, planet, profit. Some corporations have dedicated teams and/or areas of focus for Social Responsibility, Health & Safety, and Environment that balance those concerns with making money for the company. Some companies have centralized, formal sustainability offices with budget and accountability while others have grassroots green teams made up of people who work on sustainability alongside their other official roles.
Regardless of the level of formality or official-ness, people working on sustainability enjoy success when they can align people and planet with profit, by showing that the company will make more money by demonstrating measurable progress in improving the lives of people and reducing the pollution associated with the business.
How do companies demonstrate sustainability progress?
Companies share what they’re doing around sustainability in various reporting formats ranging from internal websites, emails, newsletters, and blogs to standardized public third party reports including Carbon Disclosure Project, Global Resource Institute graded Corporate Social Responsibility Reports, and Integrated Financial Reports.
Some companies share anecdotal stories of earth day events and other community engagements, whereas others collect year over year data including kilowatt-hours, gallons of fuel, tons of CO2, and volunteer hours. Third-party groups review the various company publications and some of these groups score the companies based on their perceived sustainability progress.
Why would companies care to measure environmental or social impacts?
Many companies want to protect their reputation or improve their brand with consumers. Outdoor retailers such as REI seem to have obvious reasons for demonstrating environmental stewardship. But also companies such as Interface, which differentiated from other carpet competitors with their environmentally friendly flooring, or Method cleaning products.
Other companies are responding to pressure from supply chain partners such as Walmart, asking them to demonstrate environmental commitment as part of their supply chain. Walmart seeks to quantify the environmental impact of its supply chain, so passes on the request to its logistics and wholesale suppliers to measure the emissions related to shipping, and to reduce the weight and materials of packaging.
Money is a key motivator for many companies who realize cost savings by reducing energy in the operations and increasing sales and/or retaining customers by being perceived as sustainable companies. The motivation sometimes starts with a single passionate individual (or small group) within or outside the company who finds a way to motivate others towards shared objectives.
What’s a greenhouse gas?
Greenhouse gasses are a by-product of burning fossil fuels (oil, natural gas), using electricity, and various agricultural practices, such as cow poop.
There is consensus among scientists that these gasses, as a result of human activity, are resulting in environmental degradation including rising temperatures, rising sea levels, increasing weather events, and acidification of oceans. Many people, for many years, have been looking for ways to reduce reliance on fossil fuels through changing behavior, such as taking the bus instead of driving alone in a car, and through new technologies, such as hybrid cars.
Companies seeking to measure their greenhouse gasses typically start with the fuel they burn and the electricity they use, which count in greenhouse gas accounting terms as Scope One and Scope Two, respectively. Many companies go beyond these measurements to include less direct emissions, called Scope Three (or everything else) which include: sourcing materials, manufacturing, shipping, commuting, business travel, garbage, and recycling among other things. Sometimes a company’s Scope 3 emissions are larger than their Scope One and Scope Two emissions which would be true for a small consulting company that doesn’t use much electricity but takes many cross-country flights.
What is Scope 5?
Scope 5 is sustainability software, meaning software that helps people in companies track their company’s energy, fuel, water, paper, volunteer hours, and other data.
Tracking this data helps these individuals support their sustainability message with real data, see the measurable progress of their energy reduction projects and other sustainability initiatives in real-time, report to third parties such as Carbon Disclosure Project and the Global Resources Initiative, and build support with their management for their programs by tracking employee engagement and cost savings of the initiatives.
Scope 5’s emphasis on data helps people move sustainability into the mainstream business decisions of the company. We also offer sustainability consulting to help you decide on and get the most out of your reporting needs.
What did you think?
We’d love to hear what sustainability means for you! Let us know.