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Why sustainability as a business motive isn’t enough

October 18, 2020

How do we cope with a changing landscape? What does it mean for businesses operating in this new reality?

With infinite information at our fingertips, the unimaginable now seems possible.

This technological era has placed business transformation at the center stage. Digital disruption is quickly followed by a newfound focus on sustainability – the societal and environmental impact of businesses itself.

The ease of access to information, political shifts, changing public perception, and climate change are driving forces of this shift towards sustainability. Suddenly, organizations are measured beyond profits.

From pollution prevention to the emphasis on sustainable behavior and cutting emissions, customers and employees are holding organizations accountable; forcing them to recognize the importance of sustainability.

Recent studies found that over two-thirds of customers prefer sustainable products and are willing to spend more. Furthermore, employees are demanding that businesses place more emphasis on sustainability as an organizational value.

Today, the adoption of sustainability takes place at varying degrees. Some organizations have made genuine shifts towards sustainable business practices. However, many have also taken reactionary and ad-hoc initiatives simply to obtain “green” credentials.

This brings us to the next question. Is sustainability as a “business motive” enough?

Merely making marginal improvements in business practices to “follow a megatrend” won’t help to save the planet.

Organizations need to assess for potential problems before creating a sustainable business model, grounded in long-term strategies with sustainability as their foundation.

Whether it is the innovation of a new product, design strategy, or purpose – this transformation requires organizations to look beyond the short-term financial performance to allow for maturation into long term value creation.

Besides helping the world meet environmental and social challenges, a business model grounded on sustainability can drive businesses further.

One such example adopted by social enterprises is Michael Porter’s Corporate Shared Value – a concept that allows businesses to create business models built on sustainability to gain a competitive edge whilst contributing positively to the community.

Some examples of Porter’s CSV include:

  1. Integrating sustainability into your business goals can give you a competitive boost by attracting and retaining a motivated workforce, translating into profit.

Recent findings show that 89% of executives believe that employee satisfaction is synonymous with having a shared purpose. Moreover, 85% agree that they are more likely to refer an organization with a strong purpose to others.

  1. Sustainable business practices can protect your organization’s brand and mitigate risks.

Every CEO’s worst nightmare? Waking up to breaking news of a scandal. From pollution to employees working in unsafe conditions, an organization’s reputation is not only blemished but dealing with a public relations crisis is also extremely costly.

  1. Sustainability is creating new market segments, such as novel service offerings and innovative products.

Sustainable production practices now underpin a range of consumer products, from clothing to recycled toilet tissue. Sensefolio – a data provider – has emerged by using artificial intelligence to rate companies based on their commitment to social, environmental, and corporate governance values.

Prioritizing sustainability doesn’t mean that an organization’s profit is placed on the backburner. On the contrary, it has evolved into being pivotal for business strategy.

As we face one of the pressing problems of the twenty-first century, large corporations are glorified for their motives at saving the environment.

But can we really trust them to meet sustainability targets? What is authentic, and what is greenwashing?

With the pace of change continuously accelerating, simply having sustainability as a business motive has lost its intrinsic value and is no longer enough.

Whether or not these “business motives” are translated into stronger purposes, more sustainable business practices, and measurable outcomes – holds far greater weight. Savvy organizations that strike a balance between profitability and purpose, rather than just being a place that provides a paycheck, have realized that sustainability is beyond an act of philanthropy.

Sustainability has opened our eyes to an entire world of opportunities. It is the answer for enduring growth, profit, and the key to future-proof business.


Esabella Tan

Business Analyst – Digital Services

Capgemini Singapore