How brands must rethink sustainability

Simon Mainwaring / Brands / 8 years ago

Source: Kranky Cartoons.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of sustainable development, but we usually think of it as exclusively related to the environmental movement. But if companies hope to build a thriving world that can sustain their business success, we need to deepen the meaning of sustainability to include both the concept of lasting and enduring as well as the idea of life giving.

The first of these refers to the fact that capitalist enterprises must preserve the planet’s resources for future generations; the second refers to the fact that, for capitalism to survive, businesses need to figure out how to create a prosperous society of consumers who have the financial resources and living standards to support the very existence of capitalism.  In other words, if capitalism doesn’t provide the jobs and decent wages to people, there is no market.

Further, capitalism must also be sustainable not just environmentally but economically, socially, morally, and ethically.

Economic sustainability refers to how we need to regulate the market to stop the constant boom and bust syndrome that capitalism constantly undergoes, destroying the stability of our societies.

Social sustainability refers to how capitalism needs to start taking into account and paying for the negative externalities it causes, such as pollution, urban blight, dysfunctional families, and other quality of life issues.

Moral sustainability refers to the fact that if capitalism is to be successful, it must deal with the enormous disparity of wealth and opportunity it has created between the developed and under-developed worlds.

Ethical sustainability refers to the need for capitalism to curtail the constant abuses and fraud that poison the free market.

These five domains are interconnected and interdependent. The lack of sustainable practices in any one of them weakens all others. They must work in tandem, with businesses and consumers partnering to ensure they become the new operating principles of capitalism.

Do you think business can adopt this expanded definition? Of will they be forced to in order to survive?


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  1. Avatar Brant Emery says:

    I think they must, not just can. However, educating the majority of business leaders will require external pressure, from regulators, from consumers, from successful leaders. Most importantly, until the market economy is changed, it can only take affect when the financial stakeholders value it, when shareholders and investors consider sustainability to equal improved dividends.

    1. So agree, Brant. Without pressure from consumers I think this will be hard
      to make happen. Though I think social technology makes it possible if we all
      find the will. Here’s hoping we can drive this change. Thanks, Simon