Sustainable Development (Sustainability)
Sustainable Development (sustainability) is a strategy that should be a central to all funded organisations and their support agencies.
Funded organisations are often required to prove how they are meeting sustainability responsibilities through their organisational activities or through the delivery of their funded programmes. Funding application procedures often seek information on sustainability issues and evidence is often sought during the evaluation of projects.
What is Sustainable Development?
Sustainable development is defined in many ways, the most commonly used being; “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” [(Bruntland Commission,1987)]
The concept requires us to consider the short, medium and long-term consequences of our actions to ensure we meet the long-term protection of the environment (and the life supporting systems it provides), the needs of a successful society whilst also ensuring we can maintain viable economic systems. All three aspects: Environment, Society and Economy have to be considered at the same time during decision-making.
To illustrate this interconnectedness the ‘nested diagram’ illustrates the important relationship that organisations and society both depend on the environment for their success and that organisations depend on society and the environment for their success. For long-term success it is essential to ensure that organisations through their activities and the products and services they produce should seek to avoid undermining societies needs and the abilities of the environment to provide its services.
Environmental and Sustainability Policies
Often environmental or sustainability policies are required by funders and other stakeholders to illustrate key responsibilities that the organisation commits to. Organisations that have existing environmental policies can realign these to become sustainability policies by considering how they are dealing proactively on key issues relating to their stakeholders in particular their staff and direct customers. Some organisations have more significant social considerations than others so it maybe more appropriate for them to produce a sustainability policy. If the organisation considers that it has significant environmental responsibilities then an environmental policy maybe more preferable.
An environmental policy provides a statement of how the organisation recognises its environmental responsibilities and includes examples of the strategy it takes in reducing the impacts of the organisation and the services, products or projects it delivers. It should be made available to all staff as they also have a responsibility of meeting the requirements of the policy. It should also be made available to the supply chain including customers when requested. To illustrate commitment the organisation could ensure that the environmental policy is made available, for example, on its website or in other public areas. Also note that the policy has to demonstrate commitment to it from senior management and should require continual improvement and an annual review.
The policy can be used as a strategic tool to focus on environmental impact reduction that can also have business benefits including costs savings, for example, through energy or other types of resource efficiency, risk reduction through good compliance and also as a means to generate increasing revenue by illustrating your organisation is one that is committed to environmental good practice.
Requirements of an Environmental Policy
Organisation’s that decide to write and implement an environmental policy should ensure it is relevant to their size, activities, sector and location and should be available to all staff and any stakeholders that request it. A good policy should include: – A commitment to compliance with environmental legislation relating to the organisation’s activities. – A commitment to continual improvement – The identification of the organisations key environmental impacts – A commitment to pollution prevention – Details of communication to staff and other interested parties – A commitment from senior management (signature) – Review details (the period for review).
The policy should help ensure the organisation maintains its focus on environmental improvement. It should always consider this as a document that evolves, enabling the company to make further improvements to move towards more sustainable outcomes.
Additional Requirements for a Sustainability Policy
Using the Environmental Policy example above the organisation further needs to consider its social responsibilities and include actions that it needs to take to ensure the needs of its stakeholders are met.
Integrating sustainability into the organisations direct activities
Key areas to focus upon are:
Environmental Energy, waste and water reduction, recycling, procurement of lower impact goods and services (including renewable electricity), promoting the use of public transport (and where possible the avoidance of flying), legal compliance, avoiding biodiversity impacts.
Social (including cultural and ethical) Provide safe and healthy conditions for staff, visitors and neighbours, provide fair wage, allow unions representation, customer care, equal opportunities for staff and ensuring minority group representation in outputs education, engagement etc.. Meet all applicable legislation.
Economic Promote economic practices that bring short, medium and long have long term sustainability for the organisation and other stakeholders. Collaborate and create local business connections.
Integrating sustainability into projects
All projects can be designed to create significant sustainability outcomes. If not properly considered and acted upon the overall sustainability impact of a project or the organisation can be huge. At concept development stage the project should consider how it will be delivered and how this will impact (positively and negatively) on social, environmental and economic levels.
Who is Responsible?
Everyone is responsible for helping make the organisation more sustainable. This means that sustainability should be something the organisation talks about, is trained upon, is brought up at meetings and is included in staff job descriptions. Certain people have particular responsibilities for example the MD who has to show leadership and also signs the environmental/sustainability policy. People responsible for Facilities Management, Procurement and HR also have key responsibilities as important decision makers able to turn unsustainable processes and actions into more sustainable ones by adapting policies and monitoring and managing impacts. The organisation should think about setting up a green team. This can be informal, though they are more effective if they are formal with a chair providing recommendations to management. Green teams are great at looking out for improvements in the organisation and for motivating staff to improve their sustainability behaviors.
To assist in the application of sustainable development, frameworks have been developed to help clearly define what sustainability is to assist decision-making on activity or strategic bases. Rather than looking at incremental improvement the organisation can take a step back and undertake a visioning process to consider what it would look like if it were to be sustainable in the future. A more applicable definition of sustainability needs to be applied to identify whether or not decisions will meet or undermine sustainability requirements. The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development provides an example of this. (LINK). From this orgaisations can then set out the actions and decision-making processes that will help achieve this vision.