Business Shake Up Needed to Hit Sustainability Targets

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IEMA have released a report that urges businesses to change some key aspects in order to become more sustainable. They say businesses need to do more to tackle worldwide problems. The IEMA report outlines the need for new innovative business models and strategies in order to meet these goals.

“Beyond the Perfect Storm: The Corporate Sustainability Challenge” states that a “business as usual” approach is driving us past the planet’s environmental and social boundaries. Yet it is still not too late for businesses to move away from “sustainability trade-offs” into a new age of innovation and resolution of sustainability challenges.

Building on IEMA’s 2014 report “Skills for a Sustainable Economy: Preparing for the Perfect Storm”, this new report – launched at industry event EdieLive – gives an updated “storm warning” to businesses worldwide. A swirling succession of business dependencies: climate change, population growth, loss of natural capital, water stress, resource scarcity, food supply and global development challenges indicate the pressing need for business action and innovation.

This new business briefing highlights that innovative business models and new ways to measure return on investment are needed to enable businesses to transform and that the strategic, and the tactical skills of Environment and Sustainability Professionals are central to this change.  The report also concludes work from IEMA’s 2014 White Paper, Defining Corporate Sustainability – providing focus and clarity for the profession around key definitions, terms and sustainability descriptors.

Nick Blyth, Policy Lead at IEMA and the report’s author, says that unless a transformative switch away from short-term thinking can be introduced, businesses – individually and collectively – will be unable to reap the rewards. He said: “Organisations can transform and mature towards the ambition of the truly sustainable business, but they need to establish a long view and look way beyond the “perfect storm”.  The urgency is clear but so too is the opportunity with very real tangible, financial and reputational benefits for those organisations at the vanguard.”

The report offers inspiring examples from leading companies including Marks & Spencer, ArcelorMittal, London-based office supply firm Wiles Greenworld and global professional services EY to evidence what is possible when long-term sustainability practices are adopted.

The business briefing also reveals current motivations, levels of understanding and barriers professionals in organisations are facing as part of their drive towards sustainability:

The three main reasons for organisations engaging in sustainability are to improve reputation, address client expectations and transform the business

The main barriers to delivering sustainability reported by sustainability professionals are financial, lack of management support and lack of clear strategic or operational alignment

75 per cent of professionals indicate that sustainable procurement is proving to be a significant ongoing challenge

Only 7 per cent of professionals surveyed as part of the research for “Beyond the Perfect Storm” said that “sustaining the business model” is their organisation’s primary motivation for engaging in sustainability.

Further findings from the research indicates that sustainability roles are developing and are actively enabling business transformation programmes. The profession is also maturing, with sustainability professionals now receiving a more positive than negative response to their work.  Over 60 per cent of these professionals now view corporate sustainability as a “change process where the organisation seeks to understand material issues, impacts and dependencies in order improve and transform their organisation”.

Nick Blyth said this report shows that we have reached a critical time for organisations and their ability to thrive in the future. He added: “There is no doubt that some businesses are further on in their journey to sustainability than others. The innovations being spearheaded by such businesses are inspiring and show what can be achieved when a long-term horizon is used. Many more need to follow suit – “Beyond the Perfect Storm” captures this vision and encapsulates what is possible.”

Visit the IEMA website to download a free copy of “Beyond the Perfect Storm: The Corporate Sustainability Challenge”.