Sustainability in business is becoming one of the fastest growing ethical concerns for businesses worldwide. Many of the world’s citizens, policy makers and business leaders are realizing two related truths: first that global resources are diminishing and finite; and secondly, that implementing sustainable practices is an ethical responsibility. Also, stakeholders are demanding that their companies become more responsible toward social, environmental and long-term financial sustainability through wise resource management. Additionally, companies are becoming aware of the positive financial outcomes related with sustainable practices for production, distribution and supply chains (Epstein, 2008, p. 21). Regardless of what place or profession we hold in society, sustainability is an ethical responsibility that affects everyone on the planet.
Rationale for Ethics in Business
One ethical consideration for sustainability practices is the requirement of an action plan. Action is a necessary requirement because once business leaders are educated about the problem they are philosophically and morally engaged to act (Johnson-Sheehan, date). Doing nothing will not only lead to more problems and is essentially the same thing as contributing to the problem. However, there is no national or international organizing body with established guidelines on ethics and sustainability. The task of building sustainability into the business plan is left to each company to decide. Therefore, each company, corporation or business has varying levels of philosophical attachment to making their operations and vision sustainability and ethical. Unfortunately, the planet, the expanding global population and limited resources are demanding that businesses become sustainable (Gorman, 2012). Although words like ‘green business’ and even ‘sustainability’ have become buzzwords, taking and implementing real actions to achieve sustainable business practices is more than just talk, it is ethically imperative.
Organizations Working for Sustainability
The Sustainability Consortium and the Global Institute for Sustainability represent hundreds of global businesses and partnerships working toward implementing sustainable practices in the global business market. Gorman (2012) discusses how ideally governments should enforce sustainable and environmentally responsibly behavior to regulate natural resources. However, due to the nature of capitalism and business-centric government policy, the real change must come from the industry. Fortunately, some agencies are spearheading the work in this area. For example, UN Global Compact
Likewise, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Other recent measures in sustainability include the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the Social Accountability 8000 standards, which may become a template for building sustainability guidelines. For example, the UN Global Compact is working toward sustainability in many different fields and movements, such as food and water sustainability via its ‘Millennium Development Goals.’ Perhaps the UN could provide best practices or guidelines to be applied in the business sector in a more uniform manner. At this time, the UN Global Compact is focused on supply chain and food sustainability to alleviate worldwide hunger but in the future, do to their network and political leverage, could translate to other industries and businesses.
The Sustainability Consortium (2012) points out that all levels of producers and citizens have a responsibility and can benefit from sustainable practices: ‘ Retailers, manufacturers, suppliers, governments, NGOs, researchers and consumers all hold a stake in the sustainability of global product production and use’ (para. 1). Organizations like the Sustainability Consortium represents over 100 global businesses that employ over 57 million employees and gross over $1.5 trillion in profit. Their hope is that the coalition they have built will be strong enough to build practices and to ‘ advocate for a credible, scalable, and transparent process and system’ that transcends supply chain position and a company’s nationality. They do this by offering innovations, applications, a Sustainability Measurement (a trademarked reporting system), and products and consulting to help companies make sustainable changes.
Another good example in the field is The Global Institute of Sustainability in Arizona. They and the UN Global Compact stress that sustainability does not only apply to environmental issues. They both explain that other types of sustainability include employee, social capital, human rights, labor and anti-corruption (‘ Business Participation’, para. 1). Accordingly, sustainability practices should attend to all of these dimensions.
Analysis of the Obstacles to Sustainability
Since stakeholders and shareholders motivate many internal business changes, a company is sometimes shy to make changes that will hurt their bottom line. However, if an organization’s stakeholders are calling for changes, this will move the process along and force executives to change the way they do business. As Epstein (2008) discusses, some businesses come to develop sustainable practices to improve their bottom line, while others do so as a philosophical and moral obligation. Regardless of the motive, organizations like the UN Global Compact has developed tools to overcome some of the challenges to implementing sustainable practices such as: local and global networks, practical tools and applications, an international platform and globally recognized framework, and ‘specialized workstreams in government, social and business’ realms (‘Business Participation’, para. 7).
Following philosophical reasoning, or logos, a person should be impelled to uphold sustainable thinking and practices by the sheer persuasion of the argument. Given the limitations of the world’s natural resources, global climate change, and human rights awareness, it is logical and necessary that businesses begin to move toward sustainability. In the 21st century, it is becoming an ethical and moral imperative. A good place to start is with the frameworks and vast tools provided by internationally recognized organizations like the UN Global Compact and the Sustainability Consortium. Businesses looking to move away from damaging business practices and become greener should combine forces with the work these organizations are already doing.