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It is perhaps better to consider Sustainability in business as a continuum. What does this mean?

An organisation can have a low sustainability (often characterised as ‘unsustainable’) or it can have high sustainability in its business practice. The point being that there can be progression from one to the other as well as regression the other way.

There is a view that a more sustainable approach will make a business more resilient to significant change. In difficult times, whether pandemic or recession, the logic is that retrenchment is the approach. Shore up the defences, do not attempt anything new or risky, do what you must to survive. In effect accept defeat and wait as long as possible.

In fact, evidence is mounting that this is not happening. The assumption that Sustainability can be sidelined for survival and recovery needs to be revisited. In many organisations the opposite has been the case. The shock of a pandemic and the economic fall-out has pushed Sustainability along. Stakeholders, from political to the general public need to be assured we are better set for the future.

Where are we now though? In transition is the best definition it seems. In the past there has been a waiting and relying for government to regulate and tax. Could this be seen as business evading responsibility? We now see emerging the leadership of business, at all levels, with regards to Sustainability.

As an example, BT have a fleet of 33000 vehicles which will switch to full electric by 2030. The majority of which will have occurred by the second half of the decade. They are also enabling their Tier 1 suppliers to go for Net Zero carbon. It is worth reminding ourselves that a large business is not isolated. It has an extensive supply chain, over which it exerts purchasing influence. This will ripple down the supply chain, as will the requirement to meet sustainability targets.

As a supplier do you pre-empt this and promote your sustainability credentials or wait to react? Do you lead or do you follow? Do you acquire the benefits of resilience and recognition in a crowded and changing supply chain environment?

The cynical, but not untrue, belief that the real arbiter is price is being modified. Low price with low resilience in the supply chain is high risk. It means empty shelves, unstocked stores, interrupted production and so forth. Procurement practice may to a large extent be trapped in the past, but that can be fixed.

A light pass over the news feeds shows that technology is developing across the spectrum to solve energy and resource low sustainability positions. To underestimate human ingenuity (including new ways to make a profit) is to walk backwards into the future.

So, what do we do?

We change, as we always have. We seek help to transition where we need it. Sustainability is not a dark art – it is what we do (sometimes well, sometimes not). Every business deals with change or it would not be a going concern. Though it may appear daunting at the moment, there is a clear pathway. Collaboration and partnership hold the key. The transition of dark art policy to real operations is where it all comes together.


Article by: Mark Miller

As seen in Issue 6 of The Bottom Line