Sustainability in Business, Sustainability as Business
By Ciarán Quinn
Before the pandemic consumed the eyes and ears of the world, the cry for the halt to climate change and destruction caused by the world’s economy was a silent wave coming to its peak. Whether it was a schoolgirl from Sweden being awarded Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for her efforts to raise awareness on the issue, or the hundreds of school strikes organized around the globe, a wary eye was cast once again on the efforts companies are making to heed these warnings. There are plenty of examples of companies who have blatantly disregarded their environmental responsibilities in the past. Take Volkswagen’s ‘Diesel gate’ or the continued deforestation of the Amazon by the likes of Costco and Walmart. It is clear from the profile of these companies, an auto industry powerhouse and the world’s largest company by revenue in 2019, that thus far sustainability is not something they feel is vital to the present and future success of their businesses. The likes of Ryanair have introduced a voluntary ‘carbon footprint offset fee’, which seems to try and give back through environmental schemes, rather than tackling or reducing the issue head-on. This all begs the question, is sustainability within business achievable? And is the notion of sustainability as a core business element constituent only possible as an allusion?
There are examples of hope to contrast the examples of doom mentioned above. Many household companies have embraced sustainability and the chances it creates, with different approaches to the issues allowing for innovation and creativity in this field. This has led to disruption and new improvements across all aspects of business. Whether it be supply chain or the product itself, sustainability is slowly being embraced across the board, although some companies have shown great agility in their conversion to sustainable practices also.
Adidas have concentrated on creating a greener supply chain, with a focus on reducing energy used and importantly water consumption- which has historically played a huge role in the fabric-dyeing process. This has been made possible through the reconfiguring of their production process with the implementation of ‘Drydye’ technology. Another project by Adidas is their collaboration with Parley, a non-profit organization to commit to creating shoes from 100% recycled polyester. This will be possible through a material called ‘primeblue’, which the two have collaborated on creating from plastics and polyesters recycled from the ocean. Another lifestyle-clothing stalwart is Nike, who have
focused on the introduction of recycled and reconstituted materials in their products. Most notably, 75% of the products produced by Nike partially contain some recycled material. This effort has culminated in the release of Nike’s ‘space hippie’ collection, which combines sustainability with radical design. The result is a fashionable sports lifestyle shoes made from between 85-90% recycled materials. Furthermore, Companies have focused on logistics to drive improvements. British supermarket Tesco have invested to improve rail systems to shift a portion of their distribution
network from road to the more environmentally friendly rail network. It’s clear that these firms see sustainability as an important issue in their profitability and future growth. While the companies mentioned above have begun to adopt sustainability as a core element of their businesses, there are several companies that have sustainability as a core constituent since their inception. Patagonia is a clothing company which puts the environment and sustainability above all else, whether it be through their ‘don’t buy this jacket’ campaign or use of 70% recycled materials across their range. Tesla have shifted their product focus to machines that build a future foundation for the firm, where the use of fossil fuels is eliminated through their groundbreaking technology.
None of Tesla’s vehicles have tailpipe emissions and the company have revolutionised how homes can be fueled through their intuitive solar roof technology. The potential for advancement through renewable energy and sustainability can be seen here, with the opportunity for solar energy to charge a customer’s car at home rather than having to stop at a petrol station. With every advancement in sustainable fields such as renewable energy for Tesla, even more innovation is demanded, and the likes of Tesla are delivering.
Another company taking an approach similar to Tesla’s, but within the fashion industry is the brand SAYE. SAYE is a start-up founded in Barcelona, which has incorporated sustainability across all its activities from the start. Their shoes are made from a host of ecological and recycled materials. The leather comes from European farms, which have been vetted as respecting environmental stewardship standards. The laces are produced from organic cotton, allowing them to easily integrate back into the cycles of the earth for future generations. The insoles are produced from PU foam, repurposed from the by-products of the European car industry. The company has also ensured all packaging is made entirely from recycled materials and promises to plant two trees for each pair of their shoes sold, with 90,000 trees planted to date. With their production facilities located in northern Portugal, the company guarantees fair wages and working hours, with worker friendly policies concerning overtime and conditions. With sustainability underpinning the ethos of the company, SAYE are in the best position to take advantage of the many opportunities and innovation stemming from this vital and growing sector.
The struggle between sustainability and profitability has long been a source of contention within business regarding its achievability. Too many companies have given lip service, but few up until now have made it a real purpose. Today’s world of Greta Thunberg and climate activism doesn’t see this issue as it once did and demands that real change be made. Patagonia, SAYE and Tesla have risen to the challenge. The idea of sustainability as business is clear from these companies making honest change, and the success of these businesses is reflective of that.