If you are familiar with the current corporate environment, you may have noticed that common to all corporate sustainability discussions, is the term green economy. This term or concept may sound very technical and complex to achieve as a business entity. Yes, it may call for certain operational transformation and change in business strategies and models that may not necessarily come at a cost or otherwise. However, an objective look, at the green economy only proves that it is an economy that pushes businesses to institutionalise organisational cultures and to develop business models which are sustainable and resilient, with a key focus to enhancing environmental assets, goods and services rather than driving the destruction of the environmentally beneficial resources. It fundamentally secures the future of businesses that comply to its tenets.
According to UN Environment Program (UNEP), a green economy is a macro-economic approach which focuses on green economic activities, infrastructure and skills. It can also be defined as an economy that aims at achieving sustainable development by identifying growth opportunities for regenerative processes while reducing environmental risks and impacts and ecological scarcities. The 2011 UNEP Green Economy Report argues that “to be green, an economy must not only be efficient, but also fair. Fairness implies recognising global and country level equity dimensions, particularly in assuring a just transition to an economy that is low-carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive.” Therefore, a green economy is a regenerative economy whereby businesses are environmentally, socially and governmentally conscious and responsible. Within such an economy, businesses have in- depth understanding of their relationship with nature in terms of impacts and dependencies as well as the risks and opportunities. Thus, decisions are made with full consideration of the value of natural capital and ecological services to the businesses.
The relevance of a green economy is that it promotes a triple bottom line: sustaining and advancing economic, environmental and social well-being. Investing in a green economy promotes the development and implementation of sustainable business models, investments, trade, economic, environmental and social projects and policies. Also, it contributes to minimising direct environmental impacts and risks by reducing industrial pollution, vulnerabilities to climate change, deforestation and carbon footprint.
The observance of sustainability principles and environmental responsibility in the everyday business actions of an enterprise, can lead to savings on many levels, so that in a very short period of time, some former costs can slowly transform into cost savings and profit (e.g. waste as a source of income). Thus, leading to a green business having a comparative advantage over a business that is not green. Additionally, sustainable models and operating systems lead to supply chain resilience, brand enhancement, business continuity, regulatory compliance and employee and customer satisfaction.
For a business to remain relevant within a green economy and contribute to such an economy, it should internalise the transformative green operation systems and models. The internalisation of these systems and models is what is termed as building a green business culture or sustainability culture.
The transition to green operation systems and models may lead to a heavy disruption in existing business strategies and operations. It is worth noting that the transition process is often slow and may result in businesses being reluctant to transition. It is pertinent to stress that a business entity can truly transition only if, it has institutionalised sustainability into its operations that is, making sustainability a culture and not just a mere act of Corporate Social Responsibility. A corporate entity builds a green business culture or sustainability culture by establishing goals and values as well as forming beliefs systems that reflect a respect for and commitment to the promotion of environmental sustainability. How can an enterprise build this culture, one may ask? First and foremost, a business should understand its relationship with the environment and the natural resources. By conducting an environmental assessment, businesses are able to identify their impact and dependencies on nature and the associated risks. Such assessment enables businesses to appreciate the relevance of environmental sustainability to their own survival. The information gathered at this stage can therefore be used to set clear green goals for the business. The goals should provide the business a clear picture of how management intends to reposition the business in this era of environmental consciousness and social responsibility which is the new normal and crucial for recovery from the impacts of the covid pandemic and the climate emergency. These goals must have measurable targets that can aide in proper reporting and building on progress. Again, the set goals must align with the vision and mission of the business. It should be understood that change is effective when it is coming from within. Therefore, setting goals that conflict with the vision and mission of the business may result in no transition at all in the long run. Green economy is not about closing out of operations but rather, operating in a responsible manner. Another crucial thing to do is to put all the goals and strategies into a written policy document that can be referred to when necessary. This will serve as a reference for both present and future members of staff.
Creating a policy document for your green strategy is relevant but not putting whatever is in the document into practice is a waste of the business’ resources. The green culture of a business may include but not limited to;
- Integrating renewable energy such as installing solar panels;
- Using energy efficient equipment and bulbs;
- Ensuring zero waste within your premises if not, make room for waste separation to encourage recycling and reuse;
- Reducing your packaging waste and use materials that are environmentally friendly for your packaging;
- Sourcing your raw materials sustainably. Make sure that the entities within your supply chain are meeting the global Environment, Social, Government (ESG) standards;
- Digitalisation of its operations by leveraging on existing technologies
- Awareness creation on sustainability for your staff and consumers;
- Lobbying for policies on sustainability
It can be noticed that most of the practices listed above can be done at a minimal cost. Though seemingly less valuable, they can go a long way to reduce industrial pollution, climate change, deforestation and carbon footprint. At the business level, it may lead to brand enhancement, employee and customers satisfaction and attraction of investments. Businesses are therefore, entreated to invest in research and development in order to design and build transformative and competitive solutions that are affordable and accessible to consumers with minimal or no threat to the environment.
To conclude, internalising sustainability stewardship by building a green business culture is a sure way for a business to transition to the new normal of doing business and staying relevant in the green economy. Although, it may seem to put some businesses at a comparative disadvantage in the short run, in the long run it is the ideal way to building a sustainable and a resilient business. Irrespective of how slow and costly the transition process may be, simple acts like separating waste, using energy efficient bulbs and awareness creation on environmental sustainability and responsibility can be a good step forward.