The Earth’s natural resources are not infinite. As the world’s burgeoning population places increasing strain on those resources, sustainability has grown in importance. From maintaining environmental ecosystems to manufacturing goods from recycled materials to developing renewable energy sources, sustainability has become the modern watchword for efforts to meet mankind’s present needs without jeopardizing the survival of future generations. Perhaps because of the relative newness of sustainability in the social consciousness, defining sustainability in a business sense is still a bit of an abstract art.
Consensus is only just beginning to gel about what it means to operate a sustainable business. While some companies continue to define sustainability in terms of resources used and recycled, more businesses are taking a broader view. According to a 2008 report by the Institute for Supply Management, “The largest percentage of respondents (37%) indicated that their companies define sustainability as ‘the triple bottom line’ — the integration of social, environmental and economic objectives.”
The survey polled a broad section of U.S. supply professionals including manufacturers, government, transportation, finance, healthcare, utilities, service providers and other players in traditional U.S. supply chains. However, manufacturers made up the bulk (45%) of the respondents. Here’s the breakdown on how survey participants said their companies defined sustainability:
- 37% social, environmental and economic issues
- 9% social and environmental issues only
- 11% environmental issues only
- 11% unsure of company’s definition
- 14% company had no definition
- 11% in process of developing definition
While the ISM report indicates that considerable differences in individual perception remain regarding various components of sustainability, the ISM survey indicates that U.S. industry is moving closer to adopting Carter and Rogers’ 2008 definition of sustainability:
“… the strategic, transparent integration and achievement of an organization’s social, environmental and economic goals in the systemic coordination of key interorganizational business processes for improving the long-term economic performance of the individual company and its supply chains …”
While consensus is growing for the broader definition, the survey found that companies defined different elements of sustainability quite differently. For example, when asked to provide examples of how their company related “community” to sustainability, respondents replied their efforts were directed as follows:
- 17% volunteerism
- 17% supporting community through use of local suppliers
- 25% financial value of sourcing through local suppliers
While the ISM report focused on sustainability in the U.S. supply chain, DJ Products would be interested to know how material handling firms and their customers define and utilize sustainability. Click “comment” to share your views.