Business Sustainability Management? Corporate sustainability?
What do these phrases even mean?
Why do they matter? What’s their relevance?
As a phrase or concept, both have become quite commonplace among, well, many workplaces.
Yet, both have an interesting origin as strategic approaches and business models.
Both gained particular traction during the 1990s helping to lay the foundations for initiatives like sustainable development or social enterprises to emerge.
The Business Sustainability Management and Corporate Sustainability movements have helped innovation to blossom, pushing individuals and firms to create entirely new industries or ways of operating businesses.
Such as some as rudimentary as plant-based milk – which you can read more on here.
So read on to learn more about both these topics through a personal story of me, the UN and sustainability.
Intro – so what is Corporate Sustainability
So, the concept of corporate sustainability or CS didn’t even originate in the corporate or private sector.
No, instead it actually developed out of the UN.
Specifically, from the late Kofi Annan, a Ghanian who acted as the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) between 1997 and 2006.
Now, why l am mentioning this?
Well, that is because Annan passed away in 2018, while l happened to be working at the
Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstone of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.Kofi Annan
Powerful words. And very insightful regarding sustainability.
And since l look to widen the awareness of sustainability, l thought to write a little on what is corporate sustainability and its association to Kofi Annan, the UN and me.
Clearly, there is a lot to be learned about it.
Well, first we need to dissect the word.
Corporate relating to businesses, be it big or small, and their approach towards their strategic plans or business models.
Sustainability, being about, well, meeting our needs of today without compromising those of futures generations tomorrow.
So, a Corporate Sustainability definition could be:
businesses, or perhaps investors, seeking not merely economic profit but also social and environmental benefit.
Of course, this is a very simplistic term. But the concept of sustainability, let alone corporate sustainability is not really defined.
Both are quite buzzwords.
But as with buzzwords, they gain in popularity and so then is explaining what is corporate sustainability.
Annan’s legacy to Business Sustainability Management
And this is due to Kofi Annan largely.
Indeed, Kofi Annan was someone who took the meaning of being a humanist to its truest sense.
Most admired for his work at the UN to promote peace, human rights and sustainable development, Annan desired to unite everyone.
Born in Ghana, he worked tirelessly as a diplomat to bring people and communities together.
But it was the compassion and humility that he held when doing all this that is the most inspiring.
Achievements like women’s empowerment, poverty reduction and health improvements wouldn’t exist without him.
Annan’s leadership was clear.
Like when he gave a speech in 1999 to inspire how businesses conduct themselves.
Or pushing for increased attention to be given to sustainability, but specifically from the corporate perspective, moving beyond simply of businesses being profitable, and emphasise that businesses better care for not just their employees, but communities in which they operate.
So a corporate sustainability definition means redefining how a business is managed and giving as much priority to sustainable development as it does profitability.
Simple enough right?
But why do Corporate Sustainability & Business Sustainability Management matter?
Well, as summed up by the corporate sustainability definition, it matters because it signifies a growing movement to be more eco-conscious.
By businesses, which is the crucial step.
Explaining why is corporate sustainability important is to refer to Kofi Annan again, as he was an instrument individual in developing its concept.
As expressed by the SDG Hub itself, Kofi Annan’s tireless work provided much of the groundwork on the current SDGs and what are the benchmark by which to develop a corporate sustainability report of member countries.
Guaranteeing the importance of sustainability in business decisionmaking, was finally, taken seriously.
Efforts like the UN Global Compact – the largest attempt by businesses to pursue corporate sustainability, was based on Annan’s ideas and suggestions.
But it is also closer to home.
Indeed, the progress of corporate sustainability is reflected in the growth of industries offering alternative forms of many products which we have taken for granted every day, for decades.
- This includes the most infamous of all unsustainable products: plastic straws.
- I wrote a post on how to be more sustainable with straws you can read here.
Jobs in Corporate Sustainability are growing.
But Kofi Annan also oversaw the creation of the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs A set of global targets to tackle global issues and better organise the UN.
They were highly successful. People in extreme poverty (those who earn less than $1.25 per day) fell from 1.9 billion to 830 million, as one mere example.
That’s 1.2 billion people – the entire current population of Africa.
And so, still, further, it means the MDG’s replacement, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), owe much to Annan’s work and vision.
Though Annan is no longer with us, his legacy will live on through the SDGs.
The UN & Business Sustainability Management
Now, l chose to write this piece after having the opportunity to join an intimate, but thoroughly touching commemoration on August 21st, 2018.
I was fortunate enough to be working at the UN in Geneva over the 2018 summer, seeing first-hand what and how the organisation operated. This included coming to appreciate just how much of a family it is.
Really, l use the word ‘family’ very deliberately.
That’s because during the days over this period there was a noticeable change – as though the whole UN was in mourning.
There was a real atmosphere of sadness in the air. For an organisation of 45,000 people or so, l did definitely feel everyone had been affected.
Certainly, as its leader, Annan introduced a very different style to UN procedures. Although not flawless, Annan made the UN gradually more accessible, though it took time. He ensured it ‘focused on all people in all parts of our global society’, as noted by The Conversation.
Arguably, Kofi Annan near single-handedly brought it into the 21st century.
The Importance of the UN
Equally, there are those who say the UN is inefficient. Ineffective. Redundant.
And while it’s understandable to say this huge leviathan is slow, it is wrong to say it has no presence whatsoever.
Under Annan’s leadership, it has become a driving force on global matters that don’t obey things such as imaginary borders.
Yes, it’s frustrating, that that pesky climate change or plastic pollution just will not stay in certain areas.
So, it is vital to have the UN.
To properly ensure communities everywhere are aware of their social responsibilities, while businesses consider the role of corporate sustainability over merely profit-maximisation.
Indeed, as we look to be more eco-conscious, jobs in corporate sustainability become more desirable.
What’s more, although l was only there temporarily, l and my fellow interns were very much included in the remembrance proceedings.
I was only a tiny cog in this huge machine.
But l really felt like an equal member. Like l really was helping towards a cause.
Towards Kofi Annan’s cause.
‘The major legacy was his humanity’ were the words from Michael Moller, the then Director of the UN in Geneva.
And who l was lucky enough to personally speak with during the tribute.
Though a brief interaction, there was no sense of time pressure or a feeling l was a little guy next to this inspiration.
Not literally, I’d like to underline l am not a midget.
But no, he really took the time to listen and talk to me about his memories of Annan which l will always remember.
So this unplanned, small and simple event showed to me how important Annan was to the UN.
And as expressed by Forbes: the someone who ‘planted the seeds for the modern corporate sustainability movement.’
What one person can do for spreading awareness on sustainability and encouraging change.
Beyond even the realm of sustainable development.
Or by laying the foundations for a movement of what is corporate sustainability, and begin in shifting the practices by all forms of businesses.
And the capacity by which one individual can stimulate a passion or motivation within so many others.
But when it comes to being sustainable; it shows the difference we can all produce, given the chance.
Be that individually or as a whole.
I just hope l can be half the person he was.
RIP Kofi Annan.