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What Does Sustainability Mean to Businesses and the World?

SpurWechsel: Daimler Sustainability Report 2020. [Photograph]. Sustainability Report Daimler.

The word 'sustainability' is appearing more and more in our lives, which makes it increasingly important for us to comprehend. According to the UN World Commission on Environment and Development (2021), 'sustainability' refers to 'a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' In this sense, sustainability refers to activities that are mindful and responsible about environmental, economical, and societal matters. Taking interest in these matters to contribute to leaving a brighter future for the next generations and increasing awareness about the environment should be at the best interest of everyone and institutions since the environmental problemssuch as pollution, soil degradation, and natural resource depletionarise increasingly due to human activities mostly done by companies and factories.

Today, sustainability for business enterprises means more than being a profitable marketing tool. lt should be seen as something more of a vital policy, and is principal for the survival of nature and humanity. It means more than a trend for companies now. According to Hoffman (2018) in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, '88 percent of business school students suggested that learning about social and environmental issues in business is a prime concern, and 67 percent would like to to integrate environmental sustainability into their future jobs.' Therefore, in the future of business, more and more focus is expected to be put in the matters of sustainability as it is needed.

Chinese women in cotton fields (2016, June 3). [Photograph]. Solidaridad Network.

What does it mean for businesses to have sustainable principles and policies? It generally refers to not affecting the environment in a bad way while operating their businesses (Maryville University, 2021). Large companies and corporations are often blamed more than the individual in the contribution of the environmental problems. On the other hand, they are also seen as having the power and responsibility to prevent the environmental problems from further developing. Launching more and more goods and services in the market every year is obviously going to add to the pollution of the Earth. Fortunately, businesses are more eager to finding new ways to get ahead of this problem. First part of this eagerness is to be able to take a position in the market by modifying some of their operations and making sustainable choices in their products and services. As an example, IKEA launches 100% of their cotton from sustainable farms that either recycles or reduces their use of water, chemical fertilizer, and pesticides in the process of producing cotton (IKEA, 2021).

Another example from companies that are adapting their operations to be more sustainable is Ford Motor Company. They have reduced their global waste by 5.5% in 2018 and have contracted 14.5% in water use since 2010. Their plans include utilizing 100% renewable energy for all of their manufacturing factories globally by 2035 (Ford Motor Company, 2021).

Sustainability includes societal responsibility as well. The effect that companies have on the society must also be positive (Harvard Business School, 2018). In addition to being environmentally responsible, businesses must be aware of the people who are directly or indirectly affected by their operations. Working conditions that both their own and their supplier's employees must be decent; any health concerns of the workers and employees must be considered. In addition, local people may be affected from the business operations, too. These issues are also seen as companies' responsibility as well. Therefore, businesses must have more awareness on the social effects they have in order to be more sustainable.

Wastes reused as flowerpots [Photograph]. Winn, J. & Getty Images. (2021, March 4).Good Housekeeping.

Beyond the reasons that were mentioned previously, studies show that sustainability can bring success to businesses, too. Companies with high ESG ratings (environmental, social and governance metrics) have a lower cost of debt and equity (S.Bonini & S. Swartz, 2014). Therefore, being socially and environmentally responsible may benefit the companies' profitability as well.

Living and operating more sustainably is a lot more than a passing trend. It seems to be in our focus more in the upcoming years, as environmentally responsible actions are needed to be taken immediately to be able to have a brighter future. Businesses are going to be the forefront of the sustainable movement as they are responsible of the environment, and they are also benefitting from this to survive the market. Either way, positive changes and staying true to the societal and corporate values seems to benefit everyonenow and in the future.


  • 100% committed to sustainable cotton. (n.d.). IKEA. Retrieved September 12, 2021, from

  • Bonini, S., & Swartz, S. (2014). Profits with purpose: How organizing for sustainability can benefit the bottom line, 6. McKinsey & Company.

  • Ford Motor Company. (2021). Integrated Sustainability and Financial Report (No. 2021).

  • Going Green: Benefits of Sustainability in Business. (2021, May 5). Maryville University.

  • Hoffman, A. J. (2018). The Next Phase of Business Sustainability (SSIR). Stanford Social Innovation Review.

  • Spiliakos, A. (2018, October 10). What Is Sustainability in Business? | HBS Online. Business Insights - Blog.

  • The business of sustainability. (2019, January 9). McKinsey & Company.

  • UCLA. (n.d.). What is Sustainability?. UCLA Sustainability. Retrieved September 12, 2021, from

  • Whelan, T., & Fink, C. (2017, June 1). The Comprehensive Business Case for Sustainability. Harvard Business Review.

  • Wirtenberg, J. (2014, July 10). Three Transformative Business Sustainability Trends (SSIR). Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Image Resources

  • Daimler. (2020). SpurWechsel. Daimler Sustainability Report 2020 [Photograph].

  • Solidaridad Network. (2016, June 3). Chinese Women in Cotton Fields [Photograph].

  • Winn, J. & Getty Images. (2021, March 4). Wastes Reused As Flowerpots [Photograph]. Good Housekeeping.


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