As a Sustainability Consultant, I am frequently contacted to discuss waste or energy and water use, as though managing these issues will tick the box for being sustainable.
Perhaps a better title for the services I offer would be Resilience Consultant, as sustainability covers so much more than energy, waste and water. A robust Sustainability Policy supports risk management and helps with future proofing.
Whilst an audit of energy, waste and water will help identify potential savings and how to make the best use of available resources, a sustainability audit goes much further in reviewing all aspects of the business.
A good place to start is with the supply chain. All too often, we find a supplier who can sell us what we want at a price we are willing to pay. Whilst this is a good solution to the immediate problem, we need to continually monitor the supply chain for its resilience, ability to continue to meet our needs and match our ethos. Who can forget the terrible fires that killed 1,130 factory workers in Bangladesh 4 years ago? Along with the dreadful loss of life, stores such as Primark, Matalan, Sears and Walmart suffered reputationally as well as breaks in their supply chain.
Companies who take sustainability seriously invest time and effort in their supply chain, and may not go for the most obvious or cost-effective solution. They choose suppliers that they can work with on a long-term basis, who share their goals and are willing to work together to meet new challenges. It becomes more of a partnership.
Sustainability also reviews what risks could impact on the effectiveness of the business to continue trading both in the short term and long term. This could cover issues such as inability to access business premises due to disruption in the transport infrastructure or damage to premises. It could also review reputational risk – how would the business cope with damaging press coverage and what would its recovery strategy be.
Staffing is always a major risk, so a Sustainability Audit will look at how the company recruits, retains and develops its staff. Companies with a sustainable ethos tend to be a popular choice of employer as they look after their teams well, developing them so that succession planning is embedded and all employees feel they have the opportunity of a meaningful career.
So, sustainability does deal with environmental issues – energy, waste, water, pollution etc – but it encompasses so much more and approached properly covers risk management and future proofing. It provides a road map for the future for every business.
So perhaps I will relabel myself as Sustainability and Resilience Consultant – that might provide a clearer understanding of the range of services available!