About The Business of Sustainability

AIM Katitjin in Perth achieved the first WA 6 Star Green Star Education rating. Photo by Alison Paine

The Business of Sustainability helps to guide professional services businesses of all sizes and disciplines, at any stage of their journey, towards a more sustainable business. That means delivering a better business in every sense: more efficient, smarter, more competitive and more profitable. Achieving this is critical to the ultimate goal of a sustainable future. That is the business of sustainability.

Whether your business is large, medium or small; whether your firm is well-advanced in pursuing a more sustainable model; or if you have never considered operating more sustainably at all, identifying and implementing value for money interventions to deliver a more sustainable business, and a more sustainable future, is becoming an area which is important, but difficult to navigate.

Sustainability is increasingly criticised as a term over-used; an aspiration more often stated than achieved.

Within business there is some scepticism of initiatives aiming to deliver sustainability where efforts to impose a ‘green agenda’ are advocated without regard to commercial imperatives, or where investments in ‘greenwashing’ focus on shifting perceptions rather than delivering improved outcomes and genuinely practicing what you preach. In reality, while such initiatives may deliver against other objectives, they are far from sustainable against any true definition of that term.

Defining sustainability

Definitions of sustainability differ between individuals and across firms. One barrier to effective implementation of sustainability may come down to the simple interpretation of the word.Sustainability is an integrated concept. In The Business of Sustainability, we refer to the term in the whole sense of the word. Sustainability is not just about environmental sustainability but also long-term business stability supported through actions incorporating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), diversity, reputation, and collaboration. The term can be applied to the use of financial, economic, social or environmental resources.Sustainability is inherently about the triple bottom line. In practice this means:

  • Environmental sustainability is about living and working within environmental limits and taking action that has a positive or restorative influence on ecosystems and the earth’s systems. This includes, but is by no means limited to: minimising CO2 and other GHG emissions, minimising waste to landfill, and using low environmental impact materials and products.
  • Social sustainability can be achieved through promoting a culture of sustainability, implementing open and accountable corporate governance processes, influencing transport and communications choices to promote connectedness, mobility, physical accessibility and safety, promoting equal opportunity, and improving human welfare and quality of life.
  • The concept of economic sustainability is about decoupling environmental degradation and economic growth, realising the economic opportunities inherent in sustainable business practices, helping to boost the (local) economy and increasing appreciation of life cycle costing.

Over the last decade, the business world has seen a shift, whereby for many firms leading their industries, sustainability is increasingly viewed not just as an isolated strategy, but embedded throughout the business. In the same way the delivery of workplace health and safety is now a core component of a successful business, sustainability is becoming similarly integrated throughout business processes, policy and culture.

As a consequence, we have seen the development of whole new industries specialising in the commercialisation of sustainable business practices, and the emergence of new markets for sustainability. With this we see the emergence of an increasingly complex philosophy and language supporting policy, business operations, best practice and evaluation. Similarly we’ve seen the emergence of thousands of tools, frameworks and guidelines supporting sustainable outcomes.

Delivering more sustainable, professional services

The Business of Sustainability deliberately focuses on professional services firms whether legal, accounting, finance, management, consulting or government. For these firms, whose dominant capital sits within people, rather than plant or equipment, the path towards sustainability is not always clear and nor is there one correct path. As this site will demonstrate, every firm must consider its own circumstances, commercial objectives and social and environmental responsibility before deciding which interventions they will use to achieve more sustainable practices, products and ultimately business.

Looking at the market today, businesses have responded to the sustainability push in varied ways. Clearly regulation has been a driver for big business and reputation/social licence another. Smaller businesses have been less exposed and driven more by a sense of social responsibility, but sometimes less capable of sustainability investment and cognisant of how sustainability relates to their business, i.e. not just recycling initiatives. As a result of these variations we see businesses with very different levels of awareness and at very different stages of sustainability maturity. We acknowledge this variety but emphasise the opportunities for continuous improvement. It’s about thinking about both the immediate and the long-term; about what should be done today and planned for tomorrow.

To that end, The Business of Sustainability provides firms with a Decision Support Tool posing questions we consider to be fundamental to developing a more sustainable professional services business. The Tool is provided to build capability within firms, and to guide strategic discussions, planning and decisions.

The Decision Support Tool is structured across four broad-based activity areas that, with guided conversations and strategic planning are designed to help a business become more sustainable.

The four activity areas are as follows:

  1. Sustainable governance, reporting and accounting;
  2. Internal engagement and staff culture;
  3. Collaboration and engagement;
  4. Technological improvements to offices and infrastructure.

The Business of Sustainability also identifies some challenges common to firms navigating the business opportunities that come with a more sustainable business, and provides a range of best practice illustrations through industry case studies.

The Business of Sustainability does not provide information or advice that is guaranteed to be applicable to your business, nor does it prescribe a formula guaranteeing sustainability. In recognition of the diversity of professional services firms, the aim of this website is to stimulate what will be a sometimes unpredictable dialogue around sustainability and to act as an aid for firms who are trying to identify and develop their own journey.

Good luck!