The signs are clear: Sustainability is a key corporate priority. Nearly 9,700 companies have committed to the United Nations Global Compact, more than 90% of the world’s largest companies issue sustainability reports, and survey after survey shows businesses want to play a leading role in advancing sustainability.
However, most companies have not yet come to terms with what it means to be truly sustainable or the systemic change this requires. It is well-established, for example, that sustainable companies must prioritize material issues, explore business model innovation, and engage stakeholders. These sensible actions lay the foundation for sustainability. What is not yet established, however, is identifying when companies have become sustainable.
To determine whether they are sustainable, companies must change how they view sustainability. Most companies currently focus on reducing environmentally destructive or unethical behavior. These are good goals, but they are not the same thing as being sustainable.