Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Sustainability Case Studies 24: Sustainable Business

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This is the 24th post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability: Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the review.

Today's post is on Chapter 24, Sustainable Business by Deborah Rigling Gallagher of Duke University. The chapter begins with some background on sustainable businesses. They all, in some way, focus on the triple bottom line:  people, planet, and profits. In other words, the businesses bring forward the ideas of environmental protection and human rights in their business activities. Gallagher notes that sustainable businesses have a much expanded view of stakeholders than businesses of the past. Instead of only looking at those to whom that want to see and those who are employed in the company as stakeholders, businesses now look more deeply on the impacts of their businesses on communities. They engage much more with organizations like local governments, non-government organizations, schools, and others to inform their decision making. 

A key part of sustainable business stakeholder engagement is the ability to have transparent operations around their sustainability initiatives. There are a number of reporting initiatives, such as the Global Reporting Initiative, that help businesses communicate and verify their sustainability work. They may also go one step further to not only report, but certify. The International Organization for Standardization conducts some of this work, but there are others such as the Rainforest Alliance's work with tropical products.In addition, many businesses are framing their work around the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. This helps place their sustainability work within a broader global framework around issues like energy, water, education, health and well-being, or one of the other seventeen goals.

One of the main areas where sustainability initiatives have made huge differences in recent years is within the realm of supply chain management. Companies all over the world are looking at how decisions made within their procurement processes can help them achieve their sustainability goals. For example, companies may require suppliers to have particular social or ethical standards for workers or they may require suppliers to use less packaging or energy.

The chapter takes a look at one particular case study, Counter Culture Coffee. The case study reviews how the company worked with others to help them develop relationships that led to more sustainable purchasing decisions and to significantly reduced carbon. The chapter concludes with some lessons learned and challenges and barriers. As Gallagher notes, knowing customers and suppliers matters. By working closely with stakeholders and experts, the company was able to make key decisions that helps them become more sustainable.

Click here for more information about the book.

Here are some class discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on sustainable businesses.

1. How would you define a sustainable business?

2. Why is stakeholder communication so important for sustainability initiatives in businesses?

3. What is the Global Reporting Initiative and what do they measure?

4. What is ISO 14001?

5. What do the Sustainable Development Goals have to do with green businesses?

6. How have companies partnered with non-profit organizations to reach their sustainability goals?

7. Why do you think Counter Culture Coffee was so successful at achieving their sustainability goals?

8. Counter Culture Coffee managers noted that sustainability was "messy" in practice. What did they mean by that?

Previous Entries in This Series

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