Written by: Thomas Sheffield


Sustainability has been defined as the ability of one to survive today without keeping future generations from having the ability to meet their own needs. There are three different areas of sustainability and they include: people, planet and profit. People deals with treating people fairly and finding solutions where as many people benefit as possible. Planet deals with using the earth’s natural resources in a responsible way. This brings us to the profit piece of sustainability. Can a business, local, state or national government profit and gain a competitive advantage by incorporating the principles of sustainability? The answer is yes.

For many years, the business community has believed that sustainability is at best a strategy to save money. Tactics such as energy and water efficiency were at the core of belief in business. The theory was it would likely cost more or cause the company to lose money when green ideas were implemented. The businesses could write off any positive impacts for the community. The only place on the balance sheet was through philanthropic contributions. Sustainability is no longer seen as a cost or a way to lose money. It is a new way to make it.

There are now 10 companies globally that generate a billion dollars or more in annual revenue from products or services that have sustainability or social good at their core. These so-called Green Giants include: Chipotle, GE, Ikea, Natura, Nike, Target, Tesla, Unilever and Whole Foods. These companies have made sustainability profitable and have caused others in the business world to take notice. These companies are performing 11% higher than their competitors over the last 5 years.

Sustainable companies are able to gain a competitive advantage because they can lead the way in innovation. In his book, “Confessions of a Radical Industrialist”, Ray C. Anderson describes how he changed a dirty, oil based, industry of commercial carpet manufacturing to a billion dollar company named by Fortune Magazine as one of the “Most Admired Companies in America”. The company’s strategy is aimed to redirect its industrial practices to include a focus on sustainability without sacrificing its business goals. Sustainability should not only be a specialty of business. Our government sees the value of

Sustainability should not only be a specialty of business. Our government sees the value of sustainability in the lives of its citizens. Government officials have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens to ensure their well-being. Although the federal government has been slow to enact change, many local government officials are leading the way. Change on the national level is difficult to enact. It is easier to make change on a local level. Cities have enacted their own sustainable solutions and lead the way in making progressive change. Cities like San Francisco have 80 percent of the city’s waste recycled rather than going to landfills.

What will happen when more companies adopt sustainability in their business plans? The businesses will be able to bring value to their stakeholders in exciting and different ways. The business will foster an environment of inclusion and innovation. The businesses will be able to invent strategies to make their buildings more efficient, have engaged more productive employees and better products. I really want to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me thomsustainableconsulting@gmail.com. Or you can follow me on Twitter @tcsheff. I have also created a new Facebook page WordsactionChange Initiative. Please share and follow.