- What Is Sustainability Management?
- History of Sustainability Management
- Future of Sustainability Management
- Challenges and Opportunities of Sustainability Management
- Next steps for the Sustainability Manager
This course offers free videos, podcasts, and resources coupled with questions to aid in processing this complex field. Each section is created to encompass two to three hours of learning material.
Whenever you see this icon, it is time to stop and watch, listen, read, or reflect.
Concluding each section is an opportunity for students to invest further. These suggestions offer books, courses, or certifications within a wide range of financial and time investments, to further studies and enrichment in this topic.
1│What Is Sustainability Management?
Sustainability first operates under the assumption that resources are finite. Since resources will not last forever, sustainability attempts to meet present-day needs in such a way as to not compromise resources for future generations. When making use of resources, we should contemplate long-term goals and the consequences of reaching those goals.
There are three fundamental pillars of sustainability. These pillars are economic, environmental, and social. These tenets are more simply referred to as people, planet, and profits. Businesses with a focus on sustainability will look beyond next quarter’s earnings report and make broader, long-term decisions with more than just profit and loss in mind.
While new converts to this subject might have a hard time grasping the concept of sustainability, this concept encompasses many tangible aspects. The office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy offers a series of short videos on different tenets of green tech being put into practice today to further sustainability. Topics include wind power, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient commercial buildings. After watching the videos, consider what aspects of your life and profession have been affected by one of these advancements?
The Sustainability Manager
Sustainability management is the sector of management that leads sustainability processes and initiatives within companies and organizations. Triple bottom line (TBL) is a concept that illustrates sustainability put into practice within businesses. The theory posits that instead of a single bottom line, profit, there should be three bottom lines: profit, people, and the planet.
Listen to how this Utah-based company, P3 Utah, works with other companies to make the triple bottom line a reality.
The sustainability manager must take into consideration the critical factors of sustainability. Critical Factors of Sustainability include present versus future needs, investor concerns, and goal maturation time frame. Other considerations when contemplating sustainability include green technology, stakeholder capitalism, employee health and productivity, and social responsibility.
Stakeholder capitalism broadens the view of who a stakeholder is. Going beyond the shareholders, sustainability managers must also take into consideration customers, suppliers, employees, and local communities. Social responsibility, similar to Stakeholder capitalism, maximizes shareholder value while also acting in a way that improves society.
Presenters at the World Economic Forum 2020 spoke about the creation of common standards for corporate governance. After watching this video, consider how this conversation affects today’s managers.
Society faces many challenging problems today. Although the government and nonprofits play a vital role in tackling these issues, they cannot do it by themselves. One potential private solution is the B Corp movement, which certified its first companies in 2007. B Corps attempt to build a more inclusive and sustainable economy by requiring certified businesses to meet the highest standards of environmental and social performance, transparency, and legal accountability. Currently, there are more than 2,500 Certified B Corporations in more than 50 countries. Another tool utilized today is the Social Impact Statement. These are often published annually by corporations to show what they are doing to impact social and environmental factories in the communities in which they operate.
It’s not just corporate responsibility or philanthropy. It’s real business. – Andrew Winston
Forbes states that 2020 will be the year of sustainable business. One of the fundamental illustrations of this change will be the Circular Supply Chain. The typical supply chain follows a product from its creation to its distribution, which is a straight line. Once a product is out of a business’s hands, it is no longer the business’s responsibility. The circular supply chain changes that. The company maintains responsibility for the product even after the product leaves its hands. Thus, it is a circular system.
Nobel Laureate and MIT Economics professor, Robert M. Solow spoke about sustainability in 1992 at Resources for the Future’s fortieth-anniversary event. Capitalizing on his expertise in long-run economic growth, he discusses the connections between the use of natural resources, economic development, and environmental well-being. Although nearly three decades old, his ideas continue to be relevant and are critical ecological and economic debates, which is why this was republished in 2019. Is there anything that surprises you in this almost 30-year-old lecture?
Development goes beyond mere economics. For growth to be sustainable, it must be a societal or collective responsibility.
What is sustainability, and what does sustainability management mean to you in your life and career context?
Invest in two of the leading books on sustainable business development:
Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows
The Age of Sustainable Development by Jeffrey D. Sach
2│History of Sustainability Management
When problems seem too big to tackle or too overwhelming to approach, it is important to look at history and see the changes that have already been made. Not only can we find patterns to identify, but we can learn from our past failures and achievements. Let’s take a look at the past in sustainability work.
The earth has contended with many extreme changes and disasters throughout its existence. Volcanoes and earthquakes have changed the landscape and geography to unrecognizable extremes. Humans add a new piece to the puzzle. Our numbers, societal systems, and technologies have radically advanced throughout history. Over the years, correlated with our tremendous growth and advancement is the amount and variety of the waste that we produce, followed by the pollution that it creates. Our waste becomes part of the environment through the air, the water, and the soil. The effects of waste and pollution can have severe consequences for the environment and our overall health and well-being.
Many modern disasters are attributed to, or at least worsened by, human industry. The Dust Bowl resulted in part from poor farming practices. The world’s worst nuclear power accident is believed to be Chernobyl, where thousands were either killed or suffered side effects from radiation poisoning. The oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon in 2010 released more than 134 million gallons of oil into the gulf. Estimates speculate that more than 800,000 birds, 65,000 turtles, and 12% of the area’s Brown Pelicans died. There was a great smog in London in 1952. Ultimately it was determined to be the result of burning coal fumes and sulfur. Estimates claim that 12,000 people died, 150,000 required hospitalization and thousands of animals died. More than 15,000 died in India as a result of the Union Carbide Cyanide gas leak in 1984. Wastewater released into the bay off of Minamata City by Japan’s Chisso Corporation polluted the fish, which in turn caused Mercury poisoning in more than 3,000 people. While industry and technology have allowed us to achieve so much, this small sampling of disasters serves to illustrate how important it is that we consider motives beyond just the bottom line in business.
Watch this TedTalk by Natalie Fee about Why plastic pollution is personal. Fee talks about how seven percent of all plastic that is found in oceans comes from our homes.
To negate and even reverse the damage that we cause, we have had to and still need to make conscious choices and sacrifices on an individual and industrial level, along with government regulation and assistance.
In the 1970s, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established, and they have implemented regulations and laws to increase workplace safety across the US. Since their inception, workplace injuries and fatalities have decreased dramatically. Workplace regulations and standards have been set, from emergency exits to ventilation, and from ladders to noise exposure. Look over this list of OSHA regulations. Can you find one that affects your daily work life? Can you find any gaps in your workplace, that as a sustainability manager, you could implement?
Section one introduced the term triple bottom line. Listen to this interview with John Elkington, who first penned the term in the mid-90s. Elkington suggests that it is not good enough to just reduce bad effects, but we must find out how to actually reverse negative impacts. Can you think of any companies or individuals making strides in this area, past or present?
Many companies take these lessons of the past to heart and strive to operate in a way that strongly reflects the values of the Triple Bottom Line (TBL). They attempt to move beyond profits and to do more.
Ben & Jerry’s: Conscious capitalism is a vital part of Ben & Jerry’s strategy. Its web site states that “Ben & Jerry’s is founded on and dedicated to a sustainable corporate concept of linked prosperity.” Watch this video, which provides a glimpse into its philosophy.
LEGO Group : The LEGO Group has formed partnerships with organizations like the non-governmental organization (NGO), World Wildlife Fund. Also, LEGO has committed to reducing its carbon footprint and is working towards 100% renewable energy capacity by 2030.
Mars, Incorporated : Mars has a Cocoa for Generations sustainable cocoa initiative. This initiative that requires its cocoa farmers to be fair trade certified to ensure that they follow a code of appropriate treatment to those providing labor.
Many businesses in the food industry have incorporated TBL philosophy into their business models. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is part of the United Nations, brings panelists together at its annual Investment Days event. The panelists are comprised of private agribusiness companies and cooperatives which share ideas on how they pursue social and environmental responsibility.
Sustainability is not a new issue. Businesses, while mainly being focused on profit, have been making strides in the areas of society and the environment. But sustainability stands as one of the most important topics in today’s business.
How has your life been impacted by someone’s past work on sustainability?
Invest in these books from two pioneers in sustainable management.
3│Future of Sustainability Management
Steven Cohen, Director of the Research Program on Sustainability at Columbia University Earth Institute, talks about the future of sustainability. Read through his article, “Sustainability is the future of management.”
Cohen says that the next phase of management innovations is in Sustainability Management. This phase boils down to an attempt by businesses and governments to incorporate ideas like the management of their carbon footprints and environmental risks into their operations. This idea has become a flashy thing to do, and it appeals to a large segment of the population. Cohen says that it is easy for organizations to pull this off and make it look like they are doing something about the sustainability issue. One of the first things they often do is to create an office of sustainability. However, a lot of this effort is ultimately without merit and doesn’t accomplish anything. Cohen sees the main issue as a lack of knowledge. Organizations may have a sincere desire to impact the environment through sustainable practices, but they do not know how to do it. That is the challenge of the future.
Watch this short video where Andrew Winston discussed the idea of ‘the big pivot’ in 2013. He talked about the traditional models of business being first to maximize profits and then worry about social, environmental, and other problems later when there was time. The pivot that he speaks to reverses that order, making problem-solving the first step and following with the rest once that part is accomplished. In furtherance of this idea, Winston Eco-Strategies has created Pivot Goals, which is a searchable database of the world’s largest companies and their environmental, social, and governance targets. Pivot Goals makes it simple for you to find companies that you’re invested in and see their plans for the future.
Listen to this podcast, sustainability defined, which interviews Andrew Winston in episode 12 of their sustainability series. Winston speaks to the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility.
Winston states that half of the top economic entities in the world are companies-not just countries. This clarification is necessary because it means that individuals have the power to shape the future. Your money makes a difference, and you have a more considerable influence than you realize.
GreenBiz offers a free copy of the annual edition of the State of Green Business. One of the report’s highlights is a list of 10 trends that a sustainable business professional should be tracking in 2020. Read through the trends and take note of the ones that might affect your life most significantly. Be particularly aware of the trickle-down effects.
For example, the second trend is that of companies investing in nature-based solutions. This can include changes in straws, paper products, utensils, clothes, and more. Many consumers have already dealt with some businesses switching plastic straws to nature-based alternatives like paper. Some of these new products have not been met with fanfare. The great news with trends is that it routinely brings more products to the consumer. Once where there was just one paper straw that got soggy after one minute, now the market may be flooded with other plant or nature-based straws that are just as friendly to the environment but with higher quality.
The fourth trend involves carbon offset crops that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Companies can pay for this service to better balance their carbon emissions.
The number seven trend is for commercial buildings to go all-electric. Commercial buildings can impact sustainability for a long time. This focus on building the new ones right regarding efficiency and design is potentially huge. How does this affect the companies and employees housed within? Does does this affect the electric machine industry? How does this affect the market for and marketing of sustainability certification?
Visit PivotGoals.com and look up some companies that you are invested in or have a connection to. What are their goals for the future? Are they actionable-clear and measurable? Are they vague? Which companies and goals do you think will make the most impact?
Start your journey of sustainability in a simple and easy way. Identify a company that has built its platform on sustainability and find a way to support them. Donate to their cause, buy a product, or share their story with a friend or on social media.
4│Challenges and Opportunities of Sustainability Management
Listen to Leyla Acaroglu’s Ted Talk about why we need to think differently about sustainability. She suggests that sustainability in business is a huge catalyst for innovation. How does looking at sustainability issues, like climate change, social impact, or pollution, as opportunities instead of just problems affect your viewpoint?
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), 24 million new jobs might be created globally by the year 2030 as economies move more toward sustainable development. The opportunities will be available in the energy sector, electric vehicles, and increasing efficiency in current and future buildings. While this does not account for job losses in other areas, it does, at the very least, illustrate somewhat of a shift in a new direction. According to Forbes, it’s cheaper to build new renewable energy than it is to run existing coal plants, and the prices continue to go down. With many states setting 100% clean energy goals, there must be an uptick of job growth in this area. These jobs appear to be transcending politics as wind farms and manufacturing facilities are paying out more than $1 billion in leases. The most significant potential for renewable energy jobs appears to be in the solar industry. It should be a competitive energy alternative by 2025.
Sustainability and sustainability management career opportunities offer a wide array of career opportunities. Professionals may pursue careers in biofuels, recycling, manufacturing, logistics, industrial managers, and much more. In addition to impacting modern problems in the world today like pollution and resource depletion, professionals in these careers can be a part of specific solutions for the future. These solutions might include creating more efficient transportation systems, devising more environmentally friendly business practices, and they may share in the efforts to better impact the communities around them.
Forbes reported that a UN report recently revealed a tremendous opportunity for sustainability professionals. A crucial finding was that only 21% of CEOs believe that business is playing a vital role in meeting global sustainability goals. Plus, not even half of that 21% are integrating sustainability into their operations. One could easily view this as unfavorable. However, there’s so little effort right now that the opportunities to improve and grow are bountiful. Business leaders identified three significant challenges that are frustrating their efforts. The first is public rhetoric. There’s a great deal of pressure on companies to change their ways. However, one of the consequences of making these changes is that prices must increase. The public is excellent when it comes to talking about change, but they are unwilling, for the most part, to pay higher prices for goods and services as a result of those changes. The second big issue boils down to competition. While one company may decide to go all-in for sustainability, their peers may not choose to make that commitment. As a result of this, the company moving toward sustainability begins to lag, at least in the short term. The third major hurdle involves policy and regulation. They both slow down the process of change, and at the same time, they raise expectations of results.
Another hurdle that provides a challenge is that of supply chain complexity. Take a moment to watch this Ted Talk titled The complex path to sustainability, where Olivia Tyler addresses these challenges. Tyler uses an example that draws from her experience as a sustainability practitioner. The model is that of a cake. One might look at a cake and see a relatively simple and straightforward product. However, that is not the case at all.
Sustainability Managers have a lot on their plate. There are a lot of opportunities to take hold of. But as sustainability continues to take hold, sustainability managers must be effective change managers. Whether it be on the individual level or the organizational level, change takes time, commitment, and planning. Take a moment and listen to this interview of former CSO of McDonald’s, Bob Langert. He is interviewed about the company’s journey from having a defensive mindset to one where they begin incorporating more sustainable practices. Langert suggests that “It’s not that people don’t want sustainability, its that people are so busy.” How do you see this to be true in the workplace?
What problems can you identify in your life and career around implementing and furthering sustainability?
What areas of sustainability are exciting to you? Identify opportunities in your life and career where you can help manage things toward sustainability.
Enroll in this course on Coursera from the University of Colorado on Sustainable Business: Big Issues, Big Changes.
Buy this article from MIT on Change Leadership Sustainability Demands.
5│Next steps for the Sustainability Manager
Ray Anderson, in a 2009 Ted Talk titled The business logic of sustainability. Listen as he lays out the journey of how he went “from plunderer to recovering plunderer.” He talks about being one of the first companies to make this sustainability commitment and how he created his company’s philosophy of only taking from the earth what can be renewed naturally and quickly or, in simpler terms, take nothing and do no harm.
It’s not uncommon to hear executive coaches say that if your goals aren’t actionable, are measurable and have deadlines, then they are not real goals. As a manager, if your goal is to be more sustainable, then your goal cannot be, “be more sustainable.” That is not measurable, and it doesn’t have a deadline. Some might find it an easy way to start sustainability management. There is no real way to fail a vague goal. But there is no real way to reach it either.
On the other hand, if you have measurable goals, you now have the opportunity to weave it into your business story and gain momentum for future change. For example, you can start with a goal to decrease your carbon footprint and even become carbon neutral. You can first estimate your footprint, start decreasing emissions, and even leverage donations to offset your footprint.
Data is important in setting goals, so finding data solutions and useful sustainability tools could be a good next step. The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) conducted a project on Sustainability a few years ago. In the fourth chapter, they discuss the Elements of Sustainability Assessment and Management. Read through this chapter and pay attention to the sustainability tools that were identified. Are there any tools mentioned that can be applied to your business?
Unlike typical measurements such as profit and ROI, organizations must measure Triple bottom line results differently. TBL must somehow quantify social and environmental dimensions along with profit and ROI. So, how does one do this? Some examples of turning social measures into quantifiable results might include measuring the changes in things like median household income, unemployment rate, female labor participation percentage, Educational levels, Crime per capita, and average life expectancy. A similar process may be undertaken with the environment. Measurements are taken comparing things like nitrogen levels, greenhouse gas emissions, waste generated, fossil fuel consumption. Economic measures are tracked in greater depth by looking at indicators such as average incomes, underemployment costs, and job growth percentages. Success will likely come to the sustainability managers who are skilled in tracking the most relevant data from each measure.
Many courses, degrees, and certificates are available for furthering your knowledge in the area of sustainability management. Well-known universities like UC Berkeley, Northeastern University, and Columbia University offer programs in sustainability management. Wherever one chooses to attend, classes may cover a wide range of topics beginning with the basic tenets of sustainability to concrete applications like the transport of urban freight. Some programs are traditional campus-based degrees, while some are free and available entirely online.
The Sustainability Management Association offers certification in managing sustainability. Two tiers of certification are available. The first is for a Sustainability Management Certified Professional (SMCP), which is for individuals with significant experience and exposure to a large body of knowledge. The second is for a Sustainability Management Certified Associate (SMCA), which is for individuals wishing to certify their general knowledge in various areas of sustainability. Testing is available in both a proctored environment and online. There is an exam fee and annual membership fee, both of which are very affordable.
Other potentially valuable resources are Journals. These journals are reporting the most up-to-date information on what is happening in the important fields of sustainability and sustainability management. The Journal of Management and Sustainability (JMS) is an international journal published both online and in print by the Canadian Center of Science and Education. It is a double-blind peer-reviewed and open-access journal for academics and practitioners. The purpose of JMS is to display high-quality research in various fields of sustainability. Download this report about Sustainability Indicators: Relevance, Public Policy Support and Challenges. This research is based on the idea of using Sustainability indicator data to assess, plan, implement, and evaluate sustainability. What did you learn about using data in sustainability processes?
The Journal of Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability may provide illuminating insight. With so much new and changing information available, it can be challenging to keep track of everything going on. This journal attempts to help with that by providing expert views on current advances and by evaluating the most interesting papers.
It’s Time for Change
In order to take the next step, or for some, take the first step, leaders must become familiar with the concept of change. In order to be mindful of the triple bottom line, change might need to happen in your life, in your job, or in your entire company or organization. Watch this TedTalk by Jason Clarke on Embracing Change. What excuses for resisting change have you heard before? Do people really hate change?
Articulate why you want to change yourself or your business towards sustainable management?
Write down one actionable goal for sustainability.
Those that want to make a change in their career toward sustainability management might want to pursue LEED credentialing. Check to see if it is for you.
This is the end of our free short-course in sustainability management. We hope it gives you a good background on the topic!