Sustainability in Business

Sustainability in Business – Top 3 Approaches

It was last Wednesday night, and I was sitting in my MBA class, tapping a Great Basin Co-Op pen on the desk to the beat of “Billy Jean” while listening to our three panel speakers. All older, Caucasian gentleman who recounted their tales on the road to economic greatness. They gave the class nuggets of wisdom from the perspective of formidable and wealthy businessmen; follow what makes you happy, know your niche in the World, and truly listen to what your customer wants. Two of the speakers gained fortune working within the oil industry, and one in the field of architecture. As our professor opened the last half hour of class to discussion, I waited my turn patiently to ask about how public interest in sustainability endeavors has affected each industry. The topic of sustainability is always an interesting one to bring up in a classic Economic class, and on this particular night, each panelist response represented an archetypal approach when handling sustainability in business.

The first and most excited panelist to weigh in was the architect, who beamed about his upcoming development project in Reno utilizing cutting-edge water saving methods. He has seen added value when incorporating sustainability into his newest business endeavors. Over time, he has opened his business to incorporating more and more sustainable practices as his clients have become increasingly interested in these measures. We often see agile businesses popular with the millennial generation able to keep pace with our wants and needs, especially as sustainability concerns have been on the rise. Businesses that accept environmental responsibility are more often than not able to successfully turn that into economic rewards. Our architect here illustrates the first archetypal approach to sustainability in business, which is characterized by the ability to continually adapt and evolve to new truths in our ever-changing World.

The second gentleman to take a bite out of the question was one who popped in briefly before the architect. He called me a “sweet girl”, and said I should assert myself more as he could not hear my question. Following listening to the other panelists response, he began to speak towards economic sustainability instead of environmental sustainability, further dismissing the initial question posed. Finally he ended his statement with an unapologetic shrug saying, “I’ve never written a piece of legislation that did not pollute the Earth, so I have nothing more to contribute in my response.” He was defensive in his unwillingness to explore the idea of sustainability, unapologetic about his business decisions, and dismissive. Thus, giving us the second approach to sustainability in business. We have often heard this reaction show up when parents and grandparents say, “Well, that is an issue for your generation to solve” or when environmental advocates are referred to, flippantly, as granola crunching hippies.

The final panel response was rounded out by a former employee of BP, who acknowledged the value of environmental viability, spoke about the importance of remediation efforts, and ended by saying that he honestly felt bad about the effect the oil industry has had on the environment. Rather than being completely dismissive or completely gung ho about the topic, this particular panelist landed right in the middle. A complete business overhaul in the oil industry would mean the extinction of the oil industry, however, he recognized efforts made on their part to lessen the environmental blow.

Businesses are ultimately made up of people who have different ideas, beliefs, and actions that combine to create a corporate culture. It is important to explore different approaches to sustainability on the individual level as a pathway to discovering more about environmental action as a whole functioning from within a single business. If we can recognize these reactions, we can firstly create the awareness necessary in order to unpack and understand each approach. Perhaps there is value in understanding the reasoning behind why each person reacted the way they did in order to best grow thriving environmental business practices.

By Alisha Cahlan of Reno Sustainability Center

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