Sustainable Businesses: What Are We Waiting For?

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Margarida Santinha 

Marketing Consultant 

External Project Member

In almost every aspect of our lives, we have perfect information available within a click of a button. Yet, most of the time we choose to ignore obvious problems related to the only thing ESSENTIAL to live: our Planet.

 We continue to use fossil fuels as if there was no tomorrow, poisoning the air that we breathe. We choose to look the other way or change the channel every time that we see shocking social problems on TV. We dig up the earth every day and convert it into products that will quickly become waste in a landfill.

It’s tricky, isn’t it? Our planet is the most precious thing that we have, and still, we behave as if we had a hundred more to destroy. But the hard truth is that we don’t…Well, at least not for now: NASA and Musk are still working on it.

So why are we doing this? Why do we choose to ignore millions of pieces of evidence and research that tell us it’s possible to live in a sustainable society and still be able to follow our own paths?

Let me introduce you to the concept of a sustainable society. Following the definition of British Stafford Council, it can be described as a place where:

– The needs of all people in the community are met and people feel safe, healthy and ultimately happy.

– Our environment is valued, protected, and enhanced and environmental damage is minimized.

– Our economy is vibrant, employment opportunities are enhanced and working life is more rewarding.

It almost sounds like utopia, doesn’t it? Why is it so hard to live in a world like this?

From my perspective, even if we wanted to change the world on our own (as individuals), we couldn’t. There are too many “legal technicalities” that result in a truly small fraction of the population benefiting a lot, while the rest of the world, and the planet itself, suffers the consequences.

Fortunately, it’s not just ordinary people who want to change this. The CEOs of some of the biggest companies have embraced basic principles to help change the course of the world. And I truly believe that sustainable business can be the main key in this project.

Sustainability has got to be something that we all care about. We need groups to collaborate that never have … everybody’s got to work together. We need to begin to manage this planet as if our life depended on it — because fundamentally, it does. — Jason Clay, senior vice president, WWF

A few decades ago, if we had asked someone in charge of a company’s finances to change the source of energy production to renewables, or to ensure that workers in manufacturing plants in China were paid fairly, there’s a 99% chance they would have said “We can’t do that. We need to channel all resources to maximize profits”.

You can’t judge them. They didn’t have access to evidence that they could actually make the same, or even more profits, while preserving the future of the planet.

But you can judge someone who tells you the same thing in the present. Because they have access to all the data.

Some of the biggest companies in the world, such as Unilever, Apple, Nestlé, Google, Nike and Adidas, have already embraced sustainability in a variety of original ways. Companies are starting to see sustainability as a competitive advantage. And that is something really important, because it allows employees to work in a place where they don’t have to leave their values at the door.

To give you a practical example, here is the story of Ray Anderson, the founder of Interface. In his TED talk, Anderson tells the story of how he went from being called the “scavenger of the earth” to being responsible for transforming an oil-intensive company into an environmentally friendly one.

If a company that uses fossil fuels throughout its production process can change, then we all probably can.

As business school students and future economists, managers, among others, we all must address this issue if we want to protect our future and the future of our children. It is our generation that will have the main role in this fight.

Business can drive change towards a more responsible, equitable and inclusive society, supported on research and innovation. In summation, it can help solve the big problems of our time. And we will be part of the change.


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