Recognizing Sustainability Leadership in Business

The horrendously irresponsible behavior of some corporations generates well-warranted public mistrust, however, tarring all companies with the same brush is a gross injustice to the sustainability leadership shown by many firms.

Accessing the triple bottom line

For more than a decade, early adopters have been leading the charge to craft a more ecologically friendly world. Now those who led the way have helped that approach morph into a key success factor that adds value and provides a competitive advantage.

There are a number of companies who are assuming a leadership role in efforts to protect the environment, mitigate against climate change and educate the public. While it is easy to understand why some fall prey to the mistaken belief that the bigger the corporation, the greater the level of corporate irresponsibility, this is simply not so. Some corporate giants like Unilever demonstrate that you can be a global corporate force and be responsible at the same time. Another well known company that is a global leader in sustainability is Patagonia. Their corporate conduct is exemplary.

There are many other companies that do not get the public recognition they deserve. Here is a review of some of the recent efforts being taking by ten diverse businesses in defense of a healthy planet. Some are well known while others, less so. This broad cross section of initiatives samples the responsible conduct of ten different companies.

AECOM

AECOM is a global company that is making a positive impact in a broad range of market segments. They have incorporated sustainability into their operations and community activities. They were named one of the World's Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute for the third-consecutive year and they are a signatory and participant in the United Nations Global Compact, the world's largest corporate responsibility initiative. AECOM's 2012 employees are leaders in volunteerism and along with the company, they have contributed $3.5 million in charitable donations last year.

Ceres

Ceres is a company that has not only incorporated sustainability into all of their activities, they are actively helping others to do the same. Their Roadmap for Sustainability and Interactive Website educates people and companies about the different elements of sustainability.

Ecotricity

Renewable energy pioneer Ecotricity is a maverick company that has launched an effective approach aimed at raising awareness about the need for clean energy. They are driving renewable energy awareness through an animated video, which has received more than 2.6 million views. This video addresses the pressing need to replace traditional power stations with green technology. This humorous and touching short film deals with the end of the fossil fuel industry and the rise of renewable (wind) energy.

IBM

IBM has been a green leader for more than three decades. During this time they have been recognized for their environmental efforts and in 2012, they received the European Union Code of Conduct for Data Centers Award in recognition of their long term efforts. IBM's innovation in the corporate world includes some stellar examples of consumer education. The firm's Smarter Planet Initiative encourages consumers to live a more sustainable life.

Samsung

Samsung Electronics is actively involved in greening their management, products, processes, workplace, and communities. Their take-back and recycle program is a model that keeps e-waste out of landfills. Through the program, old products can be given back in stores and efficiently recycled. This is a critical initiative as the problem of e-waste is an every growing concern.

Sony

This energy efficiency giant is also a leader in social responsibility and sustainability. They are a model for their efforts to encourage employee volunteerism with over 20,000 Sony staff members involved in efforts to feed the hungry, build homes for the needy and clean waterways.

Vestergaard Frandsen

As reviewed in the film Carbon for Water (2012), Vestergaard Fandsen shows the life-changing effect of disease control with water filters in rural Western Kenya. The firm’s Carbon for Water project, which is funded by carbon credits, delivers safe water to 4.5m people in the region, improving the health and well-being of 900,000 families, slowing deforestation and cutting 2.4m tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.

Veja

Some companies like Veja are changing the traditional business paradigm altogether. Veja is an ethical footwear brand that has a ‘no advertising’ policy, the company communicates the environmental and social benefits of its products through a mix of PR, social media and events. The brand rewards workers fairly for their work, and uses sustainable materials and methods like real rubber, natural dyes and organically farmed cotton. Even their shipping is more sustainable as they emply boats rather than air freight. The company's ethical values have succeeded in increasing sales more than 10 fold.

Volkswagen

The German automaker is behind some of the greener cars on the market. Volkswagen's holistic approach drives their concept of “thinking blue,” which is about both saving energy and living more efficiently. They offer the public a number of green tips in their‘ Think Blue Blog.”

Walt Disney

Walt Disney has more influence on children than any other company on earth. They are a sustainability leader through three core values: Act, Champion and Inspire. Act ethically and consider the consequences of your decisions on people and the planet. Champion happiness and well-being of kids and families. Inspire kids and families to make positive changes in the world that last.

Even some corporate citizens that have questionable records are getting serious about increasing their sustainability efforts. One such company is Apple. While they were previously the subject of widespread criticism, they are making significant inroads in their sustainability efforts which include going 100 percent renewable. With the hiring of former EPA chief Lisa Jackson in May, the company appears to be committed to improving its environmental record, “I wasn’t going to go anywhere that didn’t espouse those values,” Jackson recently told a crowd at GreenBiz.com’s VERGE conference in San Francisco.

Businesses worldwide are improving their environmental and social performances and educating people about sustainability in ways that inspire behavior change. Minimizing environmental impacts and being more socially responsible is also a matter of reducing costs and increasing profits. Such activities benefit a firm's reputation and positions them to thrive as we become increasingly concerned about social and environmentally issues. Most importantly, such businesses are reducing their adverse impacts and providing a model for the world. It takes time and effort to become a green leader, but smart companies are making the investment and reaping lucrative dividends.

In a world where some corporations continue to ignore their social and environmental responsibilities, it is important to recognize responsible businesses for their groundbreaking leadership.
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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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