The idea of growing a business into a responsible green socio-environmental partner is an idea that’s trickled down from the Fortune 500 segment, who largely went “green” in the past to cover up their egregious manufacturing practices that have proved to be destroying the ozone layer at rates never before seen in our history.

Now, a commitment to social and environmental sustainability is firmly steeped in the ultra-competitive world of SMB businesses all over North America, Europe, and Asia. And so it should, considering global warming is one of the key reasons behind the recent forward movement of the very foreboding Doomsday Clock.

Doomsday clock
photo credit: The Daily Dot

Is sustainability just a fad?

I hardly think so. Neither do the vast majority of experts out there.

The idea of becoming a triple-headed megalith has abruptly become the norm for the majority of business owners over the last few decades. If you’re not sustainable, there’s a huge segment of the buying public who simply will not buy your products and services.

With billionaire business owners/galactic philanthropists like Elon Musk and the like leading the forefront in sustainability, it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs suddenly find themselves obliged to help manage the impact their business has on the planet and the human race as a whole.

What is business sustainability?

It’s much easier to dumb down the concept, rather than over-complicate when it comes to defining this oft-labeled “new age” term. Effectively, business sustainability means you’re managing not just the business’s bottom line profits (which you should), but also social and environmental responsibilities to your consumers and the planet.

Business sustainability

From Wikipedia:

Sustainable business, or green business, is an enterprise that has minimal negative impact on the global or local environment, community, society, or economy—a business that strives to meet the triple bottom line. Often, sustainable businesses have progressive environmental and human rights policies.

In general, business is described as green if it matches the following four criteria:

  1. It incorporates principles of sustainability into each of its business decisions.
  2. It supplies environmentally friendly products or services that replaces demand for non-green products and/or services.
  3. It is greener than traditional competition.
  4. It has made an enduring commitment to environmental principles in its business operations.

The idea of business sustainability has been around for over a century now

Interestingly, Henry Ford was one of the front-runners in this space, dating back to the turn of the last century:

Back when the Model T was being developed and later sold, Ford was experimenting with the use of plant-based fuels to power his trucks. This being long before the ebb-and-flow of various petroleum crisis’ that plagued the rest of that century.

Ford also used sustainable hemp composite body panels in place of steel-based components, among other unique initiatives at the time. Sadly, while officially considered sustainable, his company hasn’t kept up with his sustainability vision in their modern practices, turning more toward pure profit while doing what’s necessary to be considered an ethical corporate partner.

The Wikipedia definition from above doesn’t make mention of the true social responsibility element. Essentially, to be defined as sustainable, a business needs to give back to its local, national, and global community – both in the ethical treatment of its employees and by supporting charities and initiatives by offering donations of time, money, and other needed resources.

Duisburg factory pollution

Why is sustainability considered a fad?

Sustainability is often lumped in with all the latest fads largely because of the hot-button debate in an online business degree class or a political setting over greenhouse gases and other by-products of manufacturing, and whether those factors are actually responsible for the destruction of the ozone layer and the frightening level of warming currently experienced on this planet.

To make matter worse, some world’s leaders obviously aren’t helping to make sustainability a prime global concern, but the global community is definitely on board. Even if corporations and SMBs were to refuse to participate in full with a sustainability model, consumers ultimately have the final say.

Final thoughts

If you’re foolish enough to think you can skirt your social-environmental responsibilities to Mother Earth, and to the most important factor in your business (ie., human beings), you’re in for a sad awakening as the millennium continues to move forward.

Even if you could get past the environmental side of being considered sustainable; no current business can run without happy employees, a stalwart social reputation, or customers ready and waiting with their wallets open.

Business sustainability is really all about being the best you can be – to people and to the planet – all while making a profit so you can continue to make a bigger and more profound impact on this planet and its inhabitants.