How to make your business sustainable - challenges and opportunities

Even though sustainability is becoming the new norm, many companies find it challenging to become sustainable. In this article, I share my view on some common challenges for these companies. At the end, you can download a presentation about two sustainability frameworks; pillars of sustainable business and UN's sustainable development goals. 

Most companies understand why they need to become sustainable

When I meet managers and purchasers, it's evident that most of them know the importance of becoming a sustainable business. In a time when a young climate activist is appointed the Person Of The Year by Time Magazine, sustainability is quickly becoming the new norm. There is no doubt that the demand for sustainable products and services will increase during the coming decade.

The growing sustainability demand is challenging all operators in the value chain, including many B2B manufacturing companies. Now the future of most businesses will be determined by their ability to adapt and re-adjust old processes. For those who succeed, there are endless opportunities to increase market share by becoming a leading sustainable company.

Why aren't all businesses sustainable yet?

Despite obvious business opportunities in sustainability, many companies find it challenging to create and fulfill their ambition to become a more sustainable company. Although these companies intend to become more sustainable, their efforts are narrowed due to difficulties in understanding how they should keep profitability while becoming sustainable, and how to approach sustainability, and what to prioritize.

Some of the challenges that many companies struggle with is: 

Too many frameworks 
There are many different frameworks, metrics, and opinions on how to approach sustainability.

Lack of commitment
Unclear commitment and prioritization from top management can reduce efficiency in the organization driving the sustainability transformation. 

Failure to define the business case 
Many companies are struggling with what metrics and values to use when calculating the benefits of sustainability.

What to focus on 

In my role, I often get questions on how to overcome these challenges. 

The first step is to get familiar with what sustainability is in a broader perspective. A guide is to look at the definition of sustainability from the Brundtland  Report, 1987, the Three Pillars of Sustainability, and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. 

The second step is to define what sustainability is for your company. The sustainability agenda needs to be driven by the owner's directive and clear ownership from executive management. No matter the size of the company. 

Sustainability is a broad term. Your company can start to define sustainability for you using some perspectives, e.g.: 

  • What is sustainability for your company?
  • Why shall we prioritize sustainability?
  • What is a sustainable business?
  • What is sustainable manufacturing?
  • What is a sustainable product?

Executive management needs to divide sustainability into different areas and set a clear objective based on business cases. Only then can you define what and how to prioritize to achieve your ambition to become a more sustainable company. 

Two frameworks that are helpful when dividing sustainability into different areas are; the pillars of sustainability and the UN's sustainable development goals (SDG)

Below you can download a presentation that I have put together. The purpose of it is to give you a better foundation to identify what Sustainable development goals your company should target.

In this presentation, I'll go through:

  • What are the three pillars of sustainable business?
  • What is SDG?
  • Why you should use the SDG:s and the three pillars of sustainability
  • The connection between SDG and the three pillars of sustainability
  • How to use SDG and the pillars of sustainability to become a more sustainable business

The three Pillars of sustainable business and the UN's sustainable development goals