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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

The triple bottom line

Putting sustainability into practice is about engagement.

The triple bottom line
[Andrii Zastrozhnov/Adobe Stock]

In an age where we are encouraged to consider our personal footprint on this world, companies should be no different. Sustainability is on the strategic agenda to stay. A company’s impact, its role in society overall, is a leadership responsibility that should be integral to any business strategy. Not only is it good business, but it also has the potential to deliver very real bottom-line benefits.

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And yet, as a CEO, with a menu full of targets to meet, it can be difficult to prioritize sustainability and anchor profit and resilience to it when you are firefighting the changing business landscape.

Next to agility, sustainability has been reported as the most valuable strategy necessary to be competitive and grow a healthy business. At its core, it is about accepting the impact a company has on the world, taking responsibility for that and creating long-term value by satisfying the needs of all its stakeholders.

Investors, employees, customers, suppliers, communities, governments, and trade associations all fall into the stakeholder category. The key to sustainability is in meeting their present needs without compromising the ability to meet their future needs. It is about focusing less on the immediate financial profit values of share prices and bonuses, for example, and more about a company’s longevity, its wider footprint economically, socially, and environmentally—its triple bottom line.

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THE BENEFITS OF A SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS

There is the obvious motivation for your brand’s image, but there has to be substance behind it. Today’s consumers are super savvy, and they want to know a business’s story.

People actively want to buy from companies that do the right thing. The best talent also wants to work for them, which means retention, engagement, and recruitment are all on the line.

The naysayers will claim that sustainable business practices are costly. That may be true in the beginning as you embark on the journey and introduce new ways of doing things. In the longer term, however, thanks to the very nature of sustainable practices, you’ll see increased efficiency, streamlined operations, and lower costs. This will lead to more insight, more opportunities, and the chance to innovate and evolve for success and growth.

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Last but certainly not least, you have to consider the legacy your company will leave on the world. Make it one of reducing waste, minimizing carbon, and harnessing efficient energies.

THE SUSTAINABILITY GAP

It’s one thing to know that a sustainability-first strategy is the right way to do business, but it is an altogether different task to successfully integrate it into your practices. And therein lies the differentiating factor—the difference between compliance because you have to do something and seeing sustainability as an integral part of your competitive advantage.

One business’ definition of sustainable isn’t another’s, however. It begins with awareness and acceptance. Just as big business has realized in recent years that its value is in its people, it is time to consider the impact on society and the environment. Getting started can be as simple as promoting recycling, encouraging car shares or green commuting, going paperless, or creating a sustainability committee. You could also partner with a worthy cause or charity to impact the community in which you live and/or work.

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PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Key strategies come from the core. They are integral in a company’s culture, the way they work, and the way they do business. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The best strategy comes from knowing your business and making it work for you. As leaders, we possess the knowledge and skills to begin to implement sustainability into our strategies and avoid those gaps between vision and practice. It’s also vital to quantify the value, linking your sustainable efforts to a rock-solid business case.

Transparency, internally and externally, is essential for measuring and implementing any new business practice. An open and honest culture, backed with clear leadership and empathy, creates an environment where employees and business can flourish. The only way to accomplish transparency is through open communications with all stakeholders, as well as an openness to recognizing weaknesses and continuous learning.

Many businesses that are driving the sustainability message today began their journey as a result of reacting to a crisis: reports of sweatshops or harmful carbon emissions, for example. Learn from them about how they successfully implemented proactive, sustainable strategies.

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Critically, putting sustainability into practice is about engagement. You need engaged employees who can take ownership and feel empowered. You need engaged customers who communicate their ever-changing needs. And you need engaged suppliers with whom you can collaborate for the future. And it all begins at the very top.

It takes a village to build sustainability into your business strategy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It is about your people, your culture, and your DNA as a business. Recognizing the effect you and your organization have on the wider world can be overwhelming and humbling to some extent. But begin to harness it to create a legacy of doing good business and doing business right and you will hit the bottom-line jackpot—socially, environmentally, and financially.


Eric Schurke is CEO North America, Moneypenny. Moneypenny handles outsourced phone calls, live chat and digital comms.

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