“We believe that corporations must conduct their business as responsible stewards of the environment and seek profits only in a manner that leaves the Earth healthy and safe. We believe that corporations must not compromise the ability of future generations to sustain their needs.”

from the CERES pledge

“In its broadest sense, the triple bottom line captures the spectrum of values that organizations must embrace—economic, environmental and social. In practical terms, triple bottom line accounting means expanding the traditional company reporting framework to take into account not just financial outcomes but also environmental and social performance.”

John Elkington, Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business.

Sustainability in business has come into prominence in the last two decades; as sustainable development becomes a concern for communities around the globe, the cry has gone out for sustainable policies in every aspect of life. As the public becomes better educated about environmental concerns, the expectations grow for the corporate world to answer to those concerns. The driving force behind sustainable communities is integration, and people are starting to seek that out in corporate culture as well. They want to see companies that are reaching out to their communities and their employees.

One way of looking at the goal of sustainable businesses is an idea known as the “Triple Bottom Line,” which is the idea of companies shifting their priorities and expanding their emphasis from profit to include environmental and social growth as well—combining economy with ecology. This means not only adopting more environmentally sound practices, like reducing carbon emissions and improving recycling, but also dealing with social issues, like corporate corruption and fair labor practices. The public is increasingly interested in being associates, as employees and customers, of companies whose values and priorities they share. Adapting a company’s philosophy to accommodate sustainability is not just a trend or a way to appease public opinion, but a genuinely valuable and necessary investment in the future health of a company.

There are many resources for companies that are beginning to adopt sustainable business practices. The ISO 14000 standards, a result of the UN Rio Summit in 1992, are a set of environmental measures and standards for companies to measure their progress in becoming more environmentally viable. Shortly after the publication of the World Commission on Environment and Development report written by the United Nation’s Brundtland Commission in 1987, the International Chamber of Commerce developed a “Business Charter for Sustainable Development,” which sets out 16 principles for environmental management.

There are many non-profit organizations and consulting companies (e.g., the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies, Businesses for Social Responsibility) dedicated to sustainable practices. Corporations that are well known for years of interest in sustainable business policies include Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and Starbucks. Ben & Jerry’s, a member of CERES organization, has published a Social and Environmental Assessment report every year since 1989, which includes reviews of their sustainability-promoting activities each year. Starbucks has made a shift to buying certified organic and shade grown coffee. They have also taken stewardship of many small coffee growing communities, implementing social programs such as the building of health clinics and schools, and creating loan programs so local farmers can retain ownership of their farms.

Further Resources

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