Sustainable business = Doing more with less

Vision 2050 report from World Business Council for Sustainable Development suggests that if we continue using resources at our current rate, we'll need 2.3 planets to supply them by 2050.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

The first thing you will notice about "Vision 2050: The new agenda for business" is that it won't tell your company what it must do to be considered sustainable.

But this document, published by 29 companies working through the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, does offer a vision for what life could look like if businesses address certain planetary goals that will help the roughly 9 billion people that will be living on earth in 2050 "live well." First, some definitions from the report's authors:

"By 'living well', we are describing a stand of living where people have access to and the ability to afford education, healthcare, mobility, the basics of food, water, energy and shelter, and consumer goods. By 'living with the limits of the planet', we mean living in such a way that this standard of living can be sustained with the available natural resources and without further harm to biodiversity, climate and other ecosystems."

And here are a few considerations this group says businesses should use to shape sustainability strategy:

  • The need to double agricultural output, while using the same land and water footprints
  • Halt in deforestation and increased yields
  • Recognition for costs of carbon and water in operating expanses
  • A push to cut global carbon emissions in half by this timeframe (the timeframe for emissions to peak is 2020)
  • Goal to achieve a 'four-to-tenfold' improvement in the use of resources and materials

If we continue on our current consumption path, we will need the equivalent of 2.3 planet Earths to fuel our pace of consumption by 2050.

Think about that.

So, what's a business to do? The vision report suggests that some of the biggest opportunities for business -- and government -- lie in the following areas:

  • Building and transforming cities with a sustainable sensitivity that considers energy and water infrastructure and green planning
  • Closer attention to urban mobility and smart transportation options
  • Energy infrastructure transformation
  • Water and wastewater technologies
  • Waste management and reuse
  • Improved biocapacity and bioproductivity

The focus of this report really got me thinking about what sustainability means from a corporate standpoint. In particular, the comment about working toward at least a fourfold improvement in resource usage. Here's my question: Isn't this what productivity is all about? And then it struck me: If you're having trouble getting your higher-ups to listen to your sustainability arguments, why don't you put a twist on it and tell them its about improved productivity? Because, in effect, it is! Maybe that will get their attention, and convince them that this is neither a fad nor something you should worry about once a year.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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