Sustainability is one of those “of the moment” catchphrases that tends to mean radically different things to different people. To old school environmental warriors, sustainability is watered down environmentalism for wimps; for many pro-business types, the concept is an insidious “fifth column” of environmental activism. My take on the idea is somewhat different; as someone who grew up with National Geographic and Carl Sagan as guides, but matured as an adult in the business school of hard knocks, sustainability is environmentalism all grown up.
The basic idea of sustainability applies to businesses at every level; handle operations, marketing, and human resources in a manner which ensures the greatest sustainable benefit to your business, your customers, and your community. To all businesses, the simple approach involves looking at everything you do over the long term. The challenge for small businesses, in the minds of many, is the scale of short term costs relative to the business. In reality the fear of the costs relating to sustainability has almost no basis in fact; it is change that small business owners really fear, change in a model that has served them well.
Business and politics have been in open warfare since late July, when the insurance industry opened hostilities against the idea of health reform. Over the next several months, the conflict will escalate over another idea; cap and trade. Cap and trade is another in a long line of environmental action attempted by those crazy, tree-hugging, environmental wackos.
Environmental wackos like Linda Greer of the Natural Resource Defense Council. At a conference in 2003, Ms. Greer was disappointed to reveal that 67 firms had rejected her request to work with the NRDC after she related the results of a project at Dow Chemical. Working at one plant in Midland, Michigan, the crazies were able to cut toxic emissions by 37%…but it cost Dow….
As someone who has spent nearly two decades in the practice of and study of business, I am not a hard sell when it comes to the notion of fiscal conservatism. Waste and inefficiency are the devils that haunt entrepreneurs and managers of businesses of every size, and fads cost money.
I have learned a golden rule of sorts over the years; one person’s waste is another’s investment in the business. I have known perfectly rational and intelligent managers who have chased away daily coffee customers (who buy a product that returns say, $ 0.60 on every purchase) by charging for “extra” creamers, and be perfectly willing to give away a book of matches to every cigarette customer at the same total profit.