In recent years, some of the most far-sighted companies worldwide—such as Apple, HP, and Toyota—have led the way in environmental and social responsibility. Originally they may have done it for moral and humanitarian reasons, to comply with increasingly strict environmental laws, to avoid future regulations they anticipated, or even to avoid customer and stockholder protests. But reasons for social and environmental commitment have changed rapidly in the last year from basic compliance or altruism to just plain good business.
Four Steps to Sustainability
First, companies with clear environmental and social policies are leading their industries: Profits typically go up, operating costs go down, workers are enthusiastic, and the public looks upon them positively. Even though reducing emissions and waste, redesigning processes, enhancing employee benefits, or cutting energy use may require investment, the changes can provide good returns. Many firms are now going sustainable just to stay competitive, and some experts are saying that the tipping point has been reached. Within a decade it is possible that attention to the environmental impact of a company's decisions will be just as important to assuring its future as its financial bottom line or its executives' integrity.
Second, for business-to-business sales, sustainability has begun to offer tangible marketing rewards by attracting and retaining good customers who are interested in more than the lowest price and who share the common goal of a commitment to human values.
Third, defending against environmental regulation becomes less of a problem for companies whose production values are designed to enhance sustainability. Redesigning production is neither easy nor cheap, but it can eliminate environmental compliance problems. This trend will grow when companies doing business in Europe, Japan, and soon California begin complying with new, tougher environmental laws in electronics and chemistry by rethinking their production techniques—and their suppliers.
Fourth, many companies that embrace sustainability also report that they can attract and retain better employees. Young engineers, economists, designers, and other skilled workers are eager to work for companies that do good in addition to doing well, and sometimes they will even give up higher wages for the privilege. They are attracted to companies that commit to sustainability.