To corporate America: Stop saying, ‘We’ve always done sustainability!’

Shelton Group has been serving to corporations articulate their sustainability tales for 15 years. And I can’t let you know what number of occasions, firstly of a consumer relationship, I’ve heard some model of:

“We’ve been doing sustainability since earlier than it was known as ‘sustainability!’”

I heard it once more final week on the Fortune Global Sustainability Forum, however with new phrases meant to provide it extra gravitas: “Sustainability is in our DNA!”

Please cease.

Cease as a result of it short-changes the complexity and depth of the local weather state of affairs by making it appear as if we might simply dial up your efforts somewhat bit and every thing can be OK. And cease as a result of it begs this response: “Actually? In the event you’ve been doing sustainability for many years, why is the planet (and the human race) within the hassle it’s in?” And company America doesn’t actually have a very good reply to that.

Has company America executed wonderful issues to maneuver our society ahead? Sure. Have many corporations I encounter executed great issues for his or her individuals, their communities and for the conservation of sources? Sure. I’m a capitalist and have pushed all my chips to the middle of the desk on enterprise, betting that the facility of competitors, innovation and quarterly income will in reality spur all corporations to make big strides in caring for individuals and the planet within the identify of the almighty greenback.

It isn’t true as a result of sustainability is basically about eliminating greenhouse gasoline emissions.

However saying you’ve been at sustainability for many years, or that it’s part of the aim upon which the corporate was based, or that it’s in your DNA simply isn’t true for many corporations (save the likes of Patagonia and Seventh Technology, each environmental organizations cleverly disguised as shopper items corporations).

It isn’t true as a result of sustainability is basically about eliminating greenhouse gasoline emissions. Most corporations have solely began measuring and managing GHG emissions within the final 5 to 10 years — and plenty of haven’t even began.

Recycling, recyclable supplies and recycled content material doesn’t equal sustainability.

Cleansing up parks, planting bushes and giving to charity doesn’t equal sustainability.

Being an moral company citizen doesn’t equal sustainability.

All of these actions could be a part of an overarching ESG program, they usually’re all great issues to do. We are able to inform compelling tales about them that construct model desire and even drive gross sales. However alone, they don’t add as much as “sustainability.”

You possibly can clear up all of the parks you need — you’ll be able to clear up the oceans, too — however you could determine what number of greenhouse gasoline emissions these actions will really eradicate. Are they sufficient to eradicate all of the carbon stemming out of your firm’s existence? In that case, superior, go shout it from the mountaintops. If not — and that’s what the reply will doubtless be — then get began on the onerous work of eliminating using fossil fuels to impress your crops and transport your items.

When you’re doing that, then you’ll be able to credibly speak about your efforts on sustainability. And you’ll say one thing like, “We’ve been good stewards of our communities and our air, land and water for many years. And now that we perceive our impacts on the local weather, we’re working to be good stewards on that entrance, too.”

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