Suresh Kr Pramar
Businesses today, as never before, are being challenged by the unrelenting and ever-increasing demands to address the concern of a wide range of critical stakeholders, including shareholders, customers, employees and communities. While businesses grow and prosper worldwide and though hundreds have been brought out of abject poverty and deprivation, poverty persists in many parts of the world, including India. Poverty is the result of growing inequality and the impact of business on the natural environment.
Sustainable development has become the new catch phrase for business. Increasingly business are realising that the search for sustainability is not only about cutting costs. It is about creating business value and inventing models which deliver societal and market success. The simple and powerful aspiration of leaving everything a little better for future generations is inspiring businesses to strive for sustainable development models.
Experts point out “ in the 21th century, rather than focusing singularly or even primarily on the ‘financial bottom line’ and the financial assets they process, sustainable companies are looking a themselves and their future through the lens of the ‘five capitals models’ of natural, human, social, manufactured and financial capital” Managers trained to believe that profits are the primary purpose of their business often find it difficult to believe that the financial bottom line can improve through social responsibility and environmental initiatives.
A successful business sustainable enterprise is one that adopts a long term, collaborative, holistic or systems oriented mindset. It integrates sustainable development into its core business strategy. It implements ethics based business principles and sound corporate governance practices that take into account the interests of all relevant stakeholders and not only the interests of the shareholders. The sustainable business will strive to pursue a the triple bottom line strategy that is tied up to the three broad areas of stakeholder needs: social, environmental and economic.
According to ‘The Sustainable Enterprise Field book’ “ leaders in sustainable enterprises choose to purposely engage with people inside the organization as if it were a living system, while recognizing that they are simultaneously operating in the larger ecosystem of the world. A shift from viewing an organization as a machine to seeing it as a living system open up vast possibilities for organizations, society and the world.
Sustainable development has been defines as “development that conserves natural resources, protects and enhances the environment, supports communities and maintains economic growth.” It has also been defined as “ a commitment to act responsibly while taking into account the concerns of the stakeholders”
The UN World Commission on Economic Development says “ Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable-to ensure that it meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This carries a number of implications and a number of challenges to the business world.
No business will ever announce that it is unsustainable. There is also little evidence, particularly in India, to show that major corporations are truly sustainable. For sustainable initiatives to succeed, organizations, their leaders, managers and staff need to co-create more versatile, inclusive and conscious thinking patterns.
Surveys indicate that many employees and staff are already concerned about sustainability issues. There is need to release the creativity, initiative and goodwill of all people within and outside the organization. Within the organization top management can no longer be the sole source of innovation and influence. These must come from all levels.
People working at the lower levels are as important to the change in leadership as those at the top. They have as much right and responsibility to initiate and support change. Companies need to create more fluid and integrated structures that encourages the emergence of leadership within every part of the organization. There is need therefore to provide necessary exposure to all sections of the company to issues relating to sustainable business.
The urge to be declared a sustainable business is pushing businesses in India to develop practices for sustainable growth. Though most Indian companies claim to be heading towards sustainable development there is still much to be desired. One major stumbling block is the lack of trained manpower to drive sustainable activities in the company. The need is for training on sustainability in business schools and in-house in companies.
Teaching Business Sustainability Volume 1: From Theory to Practice though meant more for management students could be a very invaluable resource for training organizations in companies to inspire ad guide teachings in sustainable business. “It will help to reinvigorate internal management education programmes to factor in corporate responsibility and sustainability issues.”
The Book which contains essays from 23 different experts covering the whole area of sustainability answers several questions regarding sustainable development. It highlights the fact that ‘oranisations are coming to realise that bad performance in environmental protection, labour practices and human rights is o longer a soft issue but one that can hit the bottom line with a vengeance.’
The 23 presentations have been divided into three groups: Theory, critique and ideas; learning from current practices; tools, methods and approaches. Contributions in the first group explore some of the overarching ideas and thinking behind the teaching of sustainability. The Group Learning from current practices outline the experience of a number of educators and successful trending setting approaches. In the third group tools, methods and approaches that can be used to teach sustainability are highlighted.
The book helps to explore various means in which theoretical value of business sustainability can result in value added practical outcomes. It attempts to bring together theory in a way that it makes it relevant for practitioners in the field.
Teaching Sustainability is still in the developing stage. Teaching Business Sustainability Volume 1 along with its companion Volume 2: Cases, Simulations and Experimental Approaches is an invaluable resource for both educators and company managements seeking guidance on issues relating to sustainability. Taken together they are an excellent guideline for sustainability practitioner. A very valuable addition for those involved in the teaching of sustainable Development in Indian business Schools and in organizations aspiring to earn the crown of sustainability.
(Teaching Business Sustainability: Volume 1: From Theory to Practice
Volume 2: Cases, Simulations and Experimental Approaches, Edited by Chris Galea; Greenleaf Publishing)