What is a sustainable business?

When I have workshops with decision-makers, they often ask me; what is a sustainable business? Below, I share my thoughts on the definition. You can also download a presentation, made for you to use with your colleagues when discussing the importance of sustainability in business. 

A growing interest in sustainability among businesses

In my role as Head of sustainability, I often speak at conferences and attend panel discussions about sustainable business. Interacting with manufacturing companies is an opportunity for me to share my insights, and also an excellent chance for me to meet decision-makers and listen to their views on sustainability.

When meeting decision-makers, it strikes me that most management teams are already aware of the importance of becoming more sustainable. Most agree that integrating sustainability into the business strategy is essential to: 

  • Attract and retain skilled employees 
  • Be prepared for future legal requirements
  • Meet expected consumer demands

But few know how to become a sustainable company.

What is a sustainable business? 

In my opinion, it's pretty straight forward:

A sustainable business is an enterprise that has a minimal negative impact, or preferably a positive effect, on the economy, society, and the environment.

So, to become a sustainable business you shall address three main categories; 

All businesses need to stay profitable. What distinguishes sustainable businesses from others, is that they make investments that foster long-term economic growth without harming the environment or society.

Compliance with human rights and environmental laws is a minimum requirement to become a sustainable business. This part of sustainability refers to the undertaken actions to improve society. 

One of the most critical actions among sustainable businesses is to manage our natural resources properly. Environment sustainability is about minimising the business impact on the environment. 

To become more sustainable, the first step is to identify the sustainability-related challenges that your organisation is facing. Your sustainability goals should be determined by the sustainability requirements of your owners, colleagues, customers, and partners.

Examples of companies that aim for a better impact on the environment

Despite the divided opinions about what a sustainable business is, I believe all decision-makers agree that becoming more sustainable is crucial for staying competitive. The enormous pressure from society to find more environmentally friendly alternatives has forced multinational businesses to set progressive environmental goals. 

VOLVO CARS - 25% recycled plastic in 2025 
In 2018, Volvo Cars announced a statement around the use of recycled plastic. The premium automotive manufacturer's ambition is that 25% of all plastics should be made from recycled material in their cars, after 2025.

IKEA - 100 % renewable of recycled material in 2030
The furniture giant, IKEA, is currently using 60% of renewable materials in their products, 10% of those are recycled. By 2030, their ambition is to have a combined total of 100%. 

ESSITY - 2025 - 85% renewable of recycled material in packaging
The leading hygiene and health company, Essity, has ambitions to reduce their environmental footprints. By 2025, their target is to use 85% renewable and recycled materials in their packaging. 

ELECTROLUX - Halving the CO2 impact between 2005 and 2020
The Electrolux Group has an ambitious climate objective to prevent millions of tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Why is sustainability important for business?

If you want to become a sustainable business, it's essential to get buy-in from relevant stakeholders at an early stage. Therefore, I have put together a presentation for you to use when discussing the importance of sustainability in business, internally.

In the presentation, I go through: 

  • Why is sustainability important for business?
  • What is a sustainable business?
  • How to become a sustainable business?

Defining these answers is crucial for any company that aims to become a sustainable business. 

Good luck!

Importance of sustainability in business