By Dela Ahiawor
In the next decade, the most successful companies will be those that integrate sustainability into their core businesses —-Jim Owens, CEO Caterpillar
In contemporary times, climate change, peak oil, resource depletion, economic uncertainty, energy insecurity, unemployment and environmental degradation have become a daily concern for humanity -hence the growing concern for earth consciousness worldwide. As part of the world community, Ghana has no better choice than to also embrace and commit to the principles of sustainability to help improve the health of our planet. By inference, the onus therefore hugely rests on corporate Ghana to begin to innovate towards a more sustainable corporate culture now and in the years ahead.
But views gleaned recently from civil society and the Ghanaian corporate spectrum, in a research conducted by Gloved Consult, a leading sustainability consulting firm in Accra, revealed an absolute lack of sustainability smarts and appreciation of sustainability as an imperative for doing business in today’s world.
With a view to the foregoing, it therefore goes without saying, that the panel discussion at a UN Global Compact, CEO roundtable on “corporate sustainability in Ghana,” held in Accra in February this year comes as a great relief. At this meeting captains of industry in Africa and the Middle East discussed issues of sustainability and responsible business practices. Business organizations in Ghana were also encouraged to align themselves with the United Nations(UN) Global Compact, which aims to re-direct the interest of business organizations from profit to sustainability. The UN Global Compact is a UN initiative which seeks to encourage firms worldwide to adopt sustainable policies and also report on its implementation. In conclusion, the panelists called for more education on corporate sustainability to help improve national development.
To that effect, I therefore think fit to enlarge on the rather tortuous concept of sustainability and its relevance and significance in the success and long term growth of latter-day businesses. That sustainability is fast gaining scholarship in the advanced economies, would be putting it mildly. In fact, it has been described as the next edge beyond technology. Also “sustainability is the imperative of the 21st century, ” according to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon.
So what is sustainability? One may ask. Before I attempt any definition, I would like to suggest that, the concept of sustainability and the idea of ‘sustainable development’ are related and can be used interchangeably to mean the same thing. In other words they represent two sides of the same coin and the term sustainability is also an evolution of the term ‘going green’ or sustainable development. The disparity lies in the fact that sustainability is the ability for a state of living to endure or be sustained. Whiles sustainable development is a strategy used to achieve development without compromising the ability of future generations to fulfill their own needs. ‘Sustainable development’ is therefore described as the pathway to sustainability.
Furthermore, sustainability is a theoretical construct which is open to a multiplicity of interpretations that can mean what the user wants it to mean. According to Speddind (1996) the difficulty of defining sustainability was the reason why “The remarkable number of books, chapters and papers, that even use ‘sustainable’ or ‘sustainability’ in the title but do not define either term.”For that reason, the International Society of Sustainability Professionals, ISSP has embarked on a project called the “ ISSP Lexicon Project, ”in their quest to adopt a definitive interpretation of sustainability for all sustainability professionals around the world. However, before the lexicon finally comes out, the United Nations’ (UN ) Brundtland Commission’s definition of sustainability still holds sway.
But in retrospect the World Commission for Environment and Development(WCED) in 1987, published a book “ Our Common Future” also called the Brundtland Report, in which it defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This is the most apt and comprehensive definition of sustainability to date .
Besides that, the ‘Dictionary of Environment and Sustainable Development’ by Alan Gilpin also defines sustainable development as development that provides economic, social and environmental benefits in the long term, having regard to the needs of living and future generations.
On the other hand, after a further analysis of the Brundtland Report, the WECD realized that for sustainable development to be attained, industry had to play a major role, aside that of government and policy makers. The reason being that companies are largely unsustainable in their actions. Since companies are the engines of economic development- it was prudent that they use their resources to address their negative impacts as a result of their operations, on that account; the idea of corporate sustainability started.
The concept of corporate sustainability, also known as business sustainability lately; was born as a result of increased environmental consciousness after the publication of the Bruntland Report in 1987. But it was three years later in 1990, when the International Chamber of Commerce showed palpable support by putting forward the ‘Business Charter for Sustainable Development.’ This charter was followed by Stephen Schmidheiny’s book ‘Changing Course’ (1992) and the ‘MIT Press’ produced by the Business Council for Sustainable development(now the World Business Council for sustainable development). Both the ‘Changing Course’ and the ‘MIT Press’ dwell on the significant role of firms in promoting sustainability development. Since then, the business world have taken on board the principles of sustainable development as the way to go.
Also in recent business practice, the term sustainability can be substituted for corporate sustainability. It is a business strategy that lays great emphasis on the success and long term growth of a business, through adherence to earth conscious initiatives and programs that helps to improve the economy, environment and the society, known in modern corporate culture as the Triple Bottom Line (3BL), including boosting employee morale, employee retention, customer satisfaction and productivity. Global warming and diminishing resources now requires that the C-Suite (business elites) adopt sustainability as an alternative to the traditional growth and profit orientation of firms. So it’s time indigenous Ghanaian firms engage with multinational organizations to cross- fertilize ideas on the most ingenious green strategies and programs to help stimulate the integration of sustainability as part of their core business strategy to help buoy up our foundering economy.
In a recent survey worldwide, 93% of corporate chief executives, CEO’s suggested that sustainability was important to their companies future success: according to the UN Global Compact. Again a UN Environmental Program Report in 2011, also attests to the fact that adherence to corporate sustainability initiatives resulted in a better economic growth.
In brief, aside all the plus points of business sustainability stated earlier, Ghanaian firms will even gain more, due to the established fact that consumers are always willing to dole out more money for products and services produced with a green touch,which are also healthy to use.
It’s therefore, time for Corporate Ghana to latch on to sustainability because, the next decade belongs to smart firms.