Friday, March 30, 2012

The real sustainability story - why you should bother

Just walked away from The Australian GlobalReporting Initiative (GRI) Conference on Sustainability and Integrated Reporting, a three-day event held at Melbourne’s Exhibition Centre.

As the first-ever GRI sustainability event held in this region it was, as you’d expect well attended (and sponsored!) by some of the luminaries of the corporate world: the big miners, big banks, big consulting firms, big supermarkets and, hearteningly, our own big Aussie government (Bernie Ripoll made an appearance at the opening plenary session).

In a jam-packed program that offered great insight and value, a number of fundamental issues emerged. Of special interest to me were the barriers and challenges we face in communicating the importance of sustainability and why we should all take heed.

Just one of those issues is that there’s no real common or widespread understanding of what the whole concept of “sustainability” really means.

Very hard to get your investors, customers, board, and other major stakeholders on board for sustainability when they don’t even know what it is – or why it matters.

So here’s what sustainability doesn’t mean.

Sustainability is not just about the environment. It’s not just about resource use. It’s not just about emissions or recycling or following safe, humane work practices. Sure, it’s about all of the above – but these are just a host of factors that go to the heart of the sustainability story.

At its heart, the sustainability story is about making sure your business or organisation is here for the long haul. That it’s prepared not only to survive but to flourish in the face of the constant and unrelenting change that characterises our living and working environments. That it follows practices that are likely to cement its position as a stayer, and not put it – and more importantly the many who rely on it both directly and indirectly – at risk. (Consider here the mammoth impact of the conduct of financial services organisations concerned with stewarding our retirement incomes …)

Too airy fairy for you? Then consider these examples.

The Narrabri farmer attending the conference to learn more about how to address the potential impacts of coal seam gas mining on his own livelihood and that of his agricultural peers. Because he wants to be here for the long term – way beyond his own generation.

The NZ Post representative there to gain insights into how his organisation, facing the real potential of technologically-induced obsolescence. Because he wants the business to survive, thrive and continue to meet its vital social charter well into the future.

The major media outlet representative there to look at the benefits of placing sustainability on the directors’ agenda at a time when, as we all know, the long term outlook for conventional media businesses is dire. And viable alternatives won’t pose themselves.

These three cases alone speak volumes for the broad ambit of the real sustainability story, in which all the imperatives of survival and success are inextricably linked. The story in which we need to take action now to build a positive future – way beyond our own generation. Because the future sure won’t take care of itself.

Guest post from Kaitlin Walsh, Director of Media & Content at BlueChip Communication

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