Sustainability - true meaning How do companies and customers interpret the term ‘sustainability’ today? And how has its meaning changed over recent years? Ann Laffeaty asks manufacturers their views.
Sustainability is all about caring for the environment. It is also about corporate social responsibility. But then again it encompasses practices such as recycling, reducing energy and minimising waste. Confused? So are the rest of us. It seems that we all have a different understanding of what sustainability means and the term has evolved considerably since it was first coined. So what does sustainability actually mean to companies and their customers today? And how far removed is this from its original meaning? The term sustainability encompasses a variety of topics according to Metsä Tissue’s UK and Ireland sales director Mark Dewick. “It includes supply chain management and working towards a better climate along with ethical business practices, improving safety at work and contributing to society,” he said. “However 20 years ago I think consumers regarded sustainability as simply a matter of recycling cans and packets. At the same time, most end-users felt that it had nothing to do with them and that sustainability was the remit of larger companies and nations.” He says the change in people’s perceptions has evolved alongside changes in our working practices. “Twenty years ago, everyone worked with a phone and a desk and meetings were held face-to-face while company car policies were based on the cost of petrol per litre,” he said. “Nowadays teleconferences have become the norm; working from home is common and high-speed telecommunications underpin everything we do. Mean-
while, we have come to understand that vehicle emissions need to be minimised. Sustainability policies have had to evolve to keep up with this pace of change.” He says there has been a growing recognition that sustainability belongs to everyone. “With this has come an understanding that end-users can demand compliance from their suppliers to facilitate their own CSR strategy.” According to Dewick, traceability is one of today’s hottest sustainability topics. “Consumers and businesses are increasingly interested in the origin of the goods they purchase,” he said. “We believe in future they will continue to favour companies that can prove transparency along with a solid sustainability performance.” Corporate sustainability is all about creating value for people and nature says Lena Söderholm, SCA’s global brand communication manager. “This creates a benefit for the environment and the community as well as our customers, consumers, investors, employees and other stakeholders,” she said. She feels that while sustainability is still very much linked to the environment in the eyes of the customer, companies and corporations are shifting their focus. “When SCA first published a sustainability report in 1998 it was named the Environmental Report,” she said. “In 2002 it became the Environmental and Social Report and since 2006 we have published a Sustainability Report in which environmental, social, financial and governmental aspects are covered. This reflects how the general view of sustainability has evolved.” SCA’s sustainability focus has evolved in line with this, she says. “Much of our work in the 1990s was targeted towards environmental issues such as CO2 reductions but over the years there has been a growing focus on social and business aspects,” she said. According to Söderholm, companies need to be adaptable when it comes to their sustainability policies. “It is crucial to have a continuous dialogue with all
stakeholders along with an understanding of trends and the business environment to ensure a sustainability strategy remains relevant over time,” she said. Supply chain management and business ethics are two of today’s key sustainability issues, she believes. “Employee health and safety is also crucial while climate change and greenhouse gas emissions are dominating on the environmental side,” she said. “And water scarcity is a growing issue. You can’t really choose one single aspect that is important today since sustainability is too complex a topic.”
Transparency vital She agrees with Dewick that transparency is becoming increasingly important. “Transparent reporting will soon be demanded by all stakeholders as the awareness of addressing sustainability issues continues to grow,” she said. And she feels more emphasis will be placed on sustainability in the future. “Companies need to truly integrate sustainability into their business models to be relevant in tomorrow’s society,” said Söderholm. “Corporations have an important role to play in solving societal needs.” Nviro marketing manager Carl Robinson concurs that sustainability is still synonymous with terms such as ‘green’ and ‘environmentally-friendly’ in many people’s minds. “However sustainability should focus attention on the end result: we must modify our behaviour from a business, societal and financial viewpoint to ensure we don’t compromise safety and the quality of life for future generations,” he said. “At the same time, environmental impact is a critical element and we need to manage materials and natural resources responsibly along with health and social aspects.” He says sustainability has become increasingly prominent in the corporate agendas of clients. “It has lost its ‘nice to have’ status, becoming instead ‘something we need to have if we’re to be seen Continued page 44
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