Redefining sustainability

It is therefore time to re-examine the legacy of Bruntland and to redefine what is meant by sustainable activity. These are the components of sustainability:

o Societal influence, which we define as a measure of the impact that society makes upon the corporation in terms of the social contract and stakeholder influence;

o Environmental Impact, which we define as the effect of the actions of the corporation upon its geophysical environment;

o Organisational culture, which we define as the relationship between the corporation and its internal stakeholders, particularly employees, and all aspects of that relationship; and

o Finance, which we define in terms of an adequate return for the level of risk undertaken.

These are all necessary in order to ensure not just sustainability but to also enable sustainable development. Moreover it is the balance between them which is crucial.

These four must be considered as the key dimensions of sustainability, all of which are equally important. This analysis is therefore considerably broader - and more complete - than that of others. Furthermore Aras & Crowther (2007b, 2007c) consider that these four aspects can be resolved into a two-dimensional matrix along the polarities of internal v external focus and short term v long term focus, which together represent a complete representation of organisational performance. This can be represented as the model below:

Model of Corporate Sustainability

Fig 5.1 Model of Corporate Sustainability (Aras & Crowther 2007b)

These can be described differently:

o Maintaining economic activity, which must be the central raison d'être of corporate activity and the principle reason for organizing corporate activity. This of course maps onto the finance aspect.

o Conservation of the environment, which is essential for maintaining the options available to future generations. This maps onto the environmental impact aspect.

o Ensuring social justice, which will include such activities as the elimination of poverty, the ensuring of human rights, the promotion of universal education and the facilitation of world peace. This maps onto the societal influence aspect.

o Developing spiritual and cultural values, which is where corporate and societal values align in the individual and where all of the other elements are promoted or negated; sadly at present they are mostly negated

Distributable sustainability

At this point we deliberately use the term distributable sustainability in order to reflect one of the key components of this argument. This is that true sustainability depends not just upon how actions affect choices in the future but also upon how the effects of those actions - both positive and negative - are distributed among the stakeholders involved. A central tenet of our argument is that corporate activity, to be sustainable, must not simply utilize resources to give benefit to owners but must recognise all effects upon all stakeholders and distribute these in a manner which is acceptable to all of these - both in the present and in the future. This is in effect a radical reinterpretation of corporate activity.

It is necessary to consider the operationalisation of this view of sustainability. Our argument has been that sustainability must involve greater efficiency in the use of resources and greater equity in the distribution of the effects of corporate activity. To be operationalised then of course the effects must be measurable and the combination must of course be manageable.

This can be depicted as a model of sustainability.

Distributable sustainability

Fig 5.2 Distributable sustainability (Aras & Crowther 2009)

This acts as a form of balanced scorecard to provide a form of evaluation for the operation of sustainability within an organisation. It concentrates upon the 4 key aspects, namely:

o Strategy

o Finance

o Distribution

o Technological development

Moreover it recognises that it is the balance between these factors which is the most significant aspect of sustainability. From this a plan of action is possible for an organisation which will recognise priorities and provide a basis for performance evaluation.

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