Environmental sustainability: A commitment to a better future
Keep reading to learn more about environmental sustainability, why it’s important, and how individuals and organizations across the globe are making a commitment to this critical cause.
What is environmental sustainability?
For nearly two millennia, humans have been carbonizing our planet, which has contributed to global climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, it is undeniable that human actions have impacted the planet, resulting in the warming of the atmosphere, ocean, and land.
As we continue to see the negative impacts of climate change, an increasing number of governments, organizations, and individuals are embracing and promoting environmental sustainability. These various groups are working towards the lofty goal of decarbonizing our world to protect our global ecosystems for the sake of future generations.
Environmental sustainability definition
Environmental sustainability is the ability to maintain an ecological balance in our planet’s natural environment and conserve natural resources to support the wellbeing of current and future generations.
The three pillars of sustainability
Sustainability is about meeting the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. There are three main pillars of sustainability that many organizations strive to achieve:
For businesses, social sustainability includes important workplace and employee issues like health and safety, inclusion, empowerment, professional development opportunities, and work-life balance.
While it may seem like this pillar is focused on an organization’s ability to remain profitable throughout its lifetime, economic sustainability isn’t just about money. An economically sustainable organization is one that can drive revenue and maintain long-term business growth without negatively impacting the community, environment, or health and wellbeing of its employees.
This pillar is all about protecting the environment for future generations. Environmentally sustainable organizations take steps to enhance efficiencies, reduce resource consumption and waste, and measure and monitor carbon emissions across the entire supply chain. Today, many organizations are amping up their environmental efforts by adopting sophisticated technology, including cloud and IoT sustainability solutions, that allow them to track and reduce their environmental impact.
A brief history of environmental sustainability
The United States first made a national commitment to environmental sustainability in 1969, with the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under NEPA, the U.S. made it a national policy “to create and maintain conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.”
In the decades following the passing of NEPA, public interest in sustainability has continued to grow worldwide, as countries across the globe face mounting climate change challenges. In 2015, 196 parties adopted the Paris Agreement at an international climate summit known as COP (Conference of the Parties.) According to the United Nations, the Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty, which was adopted by almost every nation in the world in an effort to tackle climate change. The goal of the agreement is to reduce carbon emissions enough to limit the global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—with an aim to keep the increase lower than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In more recent years, many organizations have made environmental sustainability a priority, expanding their efforts to decrease carbon emissions, reduce and eliminate waste, and consume less water.
Why is environmental sustainability important?
Climate change presents a variety of complex environmental, social, and economic challenges for countries across the globe. In recent decades, the consequences of climate change have become increasingly apparent—from rising global temperatures and more extreme droughts to strengthening tropical storms, destructive wildfires, and devasting floods.
As humans and ecosystems across the planet are suffering from the damaging impacts of climate change, many individuals, communities, and organizations worldwide are embracing environmental sustainability and making this critical cause a priority. These efforts will allow us to decarbonize our planet and conserve natural resources to support the health and wellbeing of future generations.
For organizations, environmental sustainability isn’t just good for the environment—it’s also good for business. By advocating for sustainability and launching programs that support a healthier environment, organizations across all industries can build brand trust, boost customer loyalty, and enhance employee satisfaction. Environmental sustainability is no longer a luxury for organizations—it’s now a corporate social responsibility.
Environmental sustainability examples: 6 ways to reduce your footprint
While organizations across the globe want to accelerate their sustainability efforts, many don’t know where to begin. If you’re looking for ways to reduce your organization’s environmental impact, here are a few environmental sustainability examples and tips to help you get started:
Switch to renewable energy
In an effort to reduce their environmental footprint, many organizations are shifting to renewable energy sources like solar, hydro, geothermal, and wind. Projections show that 50 percent of total power generation after 2035 will be renewables—mainly wind, solar, and hydroelectric.
Commit to a zero-waste future
Each year, people consume 100 billion tons of materials—and in 2020, only 8.6 percent of those materials were cycled back into the economy after use . To help reduce waste, some organizations are taking an increasingly circular approach to materials management. This not only means increasing the use of recycled content, but also responsibly sourcing materials for operations, products, and packaging.
Reduce your organization’s carbon emissions
Innovative sustainability solutions allow organizations to measure, record, and report carbon emissions across their supply chain. This allows organizations to reduce their impact, gain efficiencies, and make lasting changes.
Healthy ecosystems are essential for a healthy planet. According to research by the United Nations, the health of the world’s ecosystems us deteriorating more rapidly than we previously realized. That’s why environmentally conscious organizations are looking for ways to manage their impact on ecosystems and taking steps to help preserve natural resources for a climate-stable future.
Many organizations that are committed to environmental sustainability are working to reduce their overall water consumption—and some have set goals to be water positive within the next decade. Due to population growth, economic development, and ever-increasing consumption, there’s a global increase in water demand. If we don’t take action, projections show that there will be a 56 percent deficit in water supply relative to demand by 2030.
Advocate for sustainability policies
Another way organizations can increase their sustainability efforts is by advocating for policies that support the cause. This includes policies designed to help reduce carbon emissions, advance zero-carbon energy, effectively manage ecosystems, and increase water access, availability, and quality. By pushing for greater sustainability action across your community, country and the world, your organization can make a substantial difference.
What is ESG?
ESG, which stands for environmental, social, and governance, is a set of standards that organizations follow as they strive to be more socially responsible. ESG is important because this is the criteria investors evaluate as they determine whether or not to invest in a company.
Every organization has a direct impact on environmental, social, and governance concerns. Today, the way businesses approach ESG is more important than ever as environmental and social responsibility has become a focus for a wide range of stakeholders—from communities and customers to shareholders and suppliers.
Plus, when an organization commits to strong ESG standards, it can help them attract and retain top talent. That’s because an increasing number of employees are drawn to companies that care about bigger issues beyond profitability and take steps to address environmental, social, and governance concerns.
Here’s how ESG breaks down for organizations:
E = Environmental concerns
This is focused on how an organization approaches environmental issues, including waste management, use of renewable energy sources, carbon emissions, deforestation, water consumption, air or water pollution, natural resource management, as well as the company’s general attitudes towards climate change and sustainability.
S = Social concerns
In the ESG formula, social criteria focus on the impact an organization has on its customers, employees, and the surrounding community and the entire world. This includes important employee issues like labor relations, diversity and inclusion, workplace health and safety, basic wages or salary, employee training and education programs, employee engagement and turnover, and work-life balance. This area also covers the important customer issues, such as the quality of customer service, customer relations, and consumer protection issues. Stakeholders may also consider whether an organization donates time and money to charitable causes, takes a stance on human rights issues, or is beneficial to society.
G = Governance concerns
Corporate governance in ESG is about how well an organization regulates or governs itself. This includes issues like accounting transparency, financial reporting, tax strategies, corporate donations, corruption or bribery, political lobbying, board diversity and structure, environmental compliance, and executive compensation.
Understanding the difference between ESG and CSR
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a model that pre-dates ESG. CSR is a general set of standards or policies in which organizations consider their impact on employees, shareholders, and society as a whole. A much broader concept than ESG, CSR has more to do with an organization’s general intentions to make socially responsible decisions. Many critics have pointed out that CSR is more of public relations effort than an actual commitment to change or reporting process.
On the other hand, ESG includes more concrete policies and specific criteria that can be analyzed and measured using ESG ratings. Organizations in some parts of the world, including the European Union, are required to comply with specific ESG regulations. The U.S. is also considering introducing similar reporting requirements. Unlike CSR, ESG provides actual data that can be evaluated to provide a clear picture of a company’s social responsibility and sustainability efforts. Organizations can then tap into these insights to improve their ESG efforts.
The benefits of ESG
Organizations that commit to environmental, social, and governance concerns enjoy a range of valuable benefits. For example, a strong ESG proposition can help an organization:
- Drive business growth by attracting more customers with sustainable products.
- Reduce operating costs through lower energy and water consumption.
- Increase employee satisfaction and productivity—and in turn, decrease employee turnover.
- Attract more employees and customers with social credibility and brand trust.
- Reduce the risk of regulation and government intervention and prompt government support.
Accelerate your sustainability journey
No matter where you are your path to environmental sustainability, get guidance and explore solutions that can help you move forward.