But today that word is taking on a new definition. Successful business leaders see this change and acting accordingly. They recognize the importance of sustainability and using it to their advantage. Doing business today means more than just making money. For companies to reach the highest plateaus of success, they must consider how their practices affect the environment and society as a whole. 

“Not only is it [sustainability] key to a company’s image and success, but it is essential to driving innovation as we look to the future.”

Sustainability is a hot buzz word, and it’s been floating around for decades. We hear it everywhere we go, and it seems everyone these days is trying to do things with greater efficiency and lesser impact. Its definition has changed over time, and both citizens and corporations need to understand what it means. They also must recognize the fact that sustainability is the way forward.

Sustainability redefined

Karen Clarke, chief environmental officer TD Bank, identifies herself as a sustainability rebel. She has much insight to offer on the relationship of sustainability and business. 

“I think the language we’ve created around sustainability makes it very hard for people to understand what it is. When, in fact, the issues that come under that sustainability umbrella really make up the fabric of our businesses.” 

“Business is about being sustainable. If you’re not sustainable, you’re not in business.”

More than environmental

Across the country business people are seeing the importance of sustainability in their business practices. But this involves more than just environmental aspects which might spring to mind when we hear the word. 

“There are environmental, social, and government considerations that are very important because the public has a keen interest in doing business with organizations that share their values,” says James Temple, director of corporate responsibility at PwC.

Temple says a recent poll indicates that 60 percent of millennials only want to be involved with companies that share their social and environmental concerns. This means that sustainability in business has become essential for talent recruitment, job satisfaction, and employee retention.

“Companies... must consider how their practices affect the environment and society as a whole.” 

Profit’s still possible

The nature of sustainability can be different depending on what the company is, but the underlying ingredients are always the same. There must be a sense of responsibility to the well being of society and the environment, and those companies must actively engage people in pursuing those causes.

“Those things can be done in a way that is supportive of financial goals as well,” says Paul Klein, president and founder of Impakt Corp. “In the best of all cases a businesses should be able to be profitable, and as environmentally and socially responsible as possible.”

“These are businesses that were started, built in to the original idea of the business, that they could be a positive agent of environmental or social change indivisible with making money,” says Klein. 

Driving business forward

Not only is it key to a company’s image and success, but it is essential to driving innovation as we look to the future.

“We see a direct link between sustainability related issues and a line to innovation and productivity which are two of the key drivers of success in business,” says Clarke. 

“Every company will have different material sustainability issues. Some are driven by operations efficiency, others by product innovations, still others by brand value and customer engagement. But at the end of the day it ladders up to innovation and productivity.”