Business and Sustainable Development

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) was established in 1990 as an independent non-profit organization dedicated to promoting human development and environmental sustainability through innovative research, communication and partnerships.  The strategic plan for the IISD includes the following programs and core strategic goals:

  • Economic Law and Policy: Reform economic policies to advance sustainable and equitable development.
  • Energy: Shift energy systems and policies to support universal access to clean, low-carbon energy.
  • Water: Advance science-based solutions for universal access to water and healthy ecosystems.
  • Resilience: Strengthen capacities to manage climate- and conflict-related risks.
  • Knowledge: Transform data and information into knowledge that supports sustainable development.
  • Reporting Services: Provide accurate, neutral, high-quality analysis that informs decision making about multilateral environmental negotiations.

Content available on the IISD website includes materials on Business and Sustainable Development collected and presented on their own site which includes six sections covering the following:

  • Key Issues: Briefings on specific sustainable development topics from a business perspective including corporate social responsibility, corporate reporting, integrated product policy, climate change and trade.
  • Strategies and Tools:How to incorporate the principle of sustainability into everyday business activities, illustrated by real-life examples
  • Markets:Business opportunities arising from sustainable development
  • Banking and Investment:Spotlight on how sustainable development is being approached by the financial services industry
  • Working with NGOs:How businesses are forging working partnerships with lobby groups
  • Training Opportunities:How universities and professional training providers can help industry leaders incorporate sustainability into their business strategies

Among the strategies and tools are guiding principles (i.e., the CERES principles, the International Chamber of Commerce Business Charter, the GoodCorporation accreditation scheme, IISD’s checklist of sustainable business practices, “factor four” and the “triple bottom line”); business tools (i.e., by-product synergy and industrial ecology, cleaner production, design for environment, eco-efficiency, energy efficiency, environmentally-conscious manufacturing, the “four R’s”, green procurement, performance contracting, pollution prevention and zero-emission processes); and systems and standards (i.e., environmental management systems, ISO 14001, EMAS, EH&S programs, SA 8000, life-cycle assessment, reporting, total cost assessment and total quality environment).

The IISD, in collaboration with Deloitte & Touche and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, published “Business Strategy for Sustainable Development: Leadership and Accountability for the 90s” in 1992, and that publication included a number of steps for managing an enterprise according to sustainable development principles:

  • Perform a stakeholder analysis to identify all the parties that are directly or indirectly affected by the enterprise’s operations and set out the issues, concerns and information needs of the stakeholders with respect to the organization’s sustainable development activities.
  • Assess the current position to determine the degree to which the company’s activities line up with sustainable development principles, a process that requires evaluating the company’s overall strategy, the performance of specific operations, and the effect of particular activities. This process should compare the company’s current performance with the expectations of the stakeholders, review management philosophies and systems, analyze the scope of public disclosures on sustainability topics, and evaluate the ability of current information systems to produce the required data should be evaluated.
  • Set sustainable development policies and objectives including articulating the basic values that the enterprise expects its employees to follow with respect to sustainable development, incorporating sustainable development objectives as an additional dimension of business strategy, setting targets for operating performance and establishing an effective external monitoring system that gathers information on new and proposed legislation; industry practices and standards, competitors’ strategies, community and special interest group policies and activities. trade union concerns and technical developments (e.g., new process technologies).
  • Establish a social responsibility committee of the board of directors with responsibility for setting corporate policies on sustainable development and monitoring their implementation and for dealing with issues such as health and safety, personnel policies, environmental protection, and codes of business conduct.
  • Decide on a strategy taking into account the performance of other comparable organizations and with a focus on narrowing the gap between the current state of the corporation’s performance and its objectives for the future. The strategy should be supported by a plan that describes how and when management expects to achieve the stated goals and the various milestones that must be reached along the way.  Once the strategy and the general plan have been approved, detailed plans should be prepared indicating how the new strategy will affect operations, management systems, information systems and reporting.  Plans should be reviewed and approved by senior management following consultation with employees throughout the organization.
  • Design and execute an implementation plan for the management system changes that are needed in order to achieve sustainable development objectives, a process that normally includes changing the corporate culture and employee attitudes, defining responsibilities and accountability, and establishing organizational structures, information reporting systems and operational practices.
  • Develop a supportive corporate culture to ensure that the organization and its people give their backing to the sustainable development policies. In most cases, managers will need to be retrained to change attitudes that have traditionally emphasized wealth management for the owners of the enterprise.  An effort should also be made to develop a culture that emphasizes employee participation, continuous learning and improvement.
  • Develop appropriate measures and standards of performance taking into account the company’s sustainable development objectives and standards that have been established by government and other public agencies.
  • Develop meaningful reports for internal management and stakeholders, outlining the enterprise’s sustainable development objectives and comparing performance against them. Directors and senior executives use internal reports to measure performance, make decisions and monitor the implementation of their policies and strategies. Shareholders, creditors, employees and customers, as well as the public at large, use external corporate reports to evaluate the performance of a corporation, and to hold the directors and senior executives accountable for achieving financial, social and environmental objectives.
  • Enhance internal monitoring processes to help directors and senior managers ensure that the sustainable development policies are being implemented. Monitoring can take many forms, such as reviewing reports submitted by middle managers, touring operating sites and observing employees performing their duties, holding regular meetings with subordinates to review reports and to seek input on how the procedures and reporting systems might be improved, and implementing an environmental auditing program.

Other resources and references relating to sustainable business are available from the Sustainable Business and Entrepreneurship Platform, which is a research group from the International Business School and the Centre of Applied Research of Economics and Management at the Amsterdam University of Applied Science.  The Platform was developed as a resource for professionals, primarily in the fashion, apparel and textile industries, to learn more about sustainability in practice and includes case studies and tools that can be used for assessment of sustainability and development and implementation of strategies for achieving sustainability change.

This post is part of the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Project’s extensive materials on Sustainability and Entrepreneurship.

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