Climate change, hunger, refugees, extinction of species and plastic waste in the oceans. What used to be known only by individual scientists is now generally recognised in its urgency, at the latest since “Fridays for Future” – the problems in our world require immediate sustainable action.
What is sustainability?
Although there is no universally accepted definition of sustainability, the 1987 United Nations definition is one of the most common. According to the UN, sustainability means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Generally, developments and actions are therefore sustainable if their effects do not negatively affect either the present or the future.
In the United Nations Agenda of 2016, sustainability is divided into different dimensions: Planet, People, Prosperity, as well as Peace and Partnership. A similar division can be found in one of the most famous sustainability models, the so-called three pillar model. The model assumes that sustainable action can only be achieved if ecological, social and economic goals are considered and fulfilled at the same time. According to the concept, the three areas also influence each other so much that none of the three dimensions can be maintained without the other two pillars in the long-term.
The three pillars of sustainability can essentially be described in this way:
- Ecological sustainability – Planet: Its main goal is the conservation of natural resources. Ecologically sustainable would therefore be a way of life that uses natural resources only to the extent that they regenerate. In addition, a general minimization or avoidance of hazardous substances is also relevant. Particularly in the production of goods, it is important to use products and manufacturing processes that pose as little risk as possible to humans and the environment.
- Social sustainability – People: Social sustainability aims to preserve the dignity of every human being. Each and every one of us as individuals can contribute to this in a variety of ways. But companies and states must also take social responsibility if they want to act in a socially sustainable manner. Compliance with labour rights, social standards, health protection and gender equality, for example, play a central role here. Other examples include the socially sustainable development goals of the United Nations. These include ending poverty and hunger worldwide and implementing human rights for all.
- Economic sustainability – Prosperity: Economic sustainability aims to prevent losses for future generations. In general, an economic system is considered to be sustainable if it is permanently functional. Moreover, the above-mentioned ecological and social goals can only be achieved if the pillar of economic sustainability is included in the agenda.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is described by the European Commission as a concept based on companies voluntarily integrating high social standards and the consideration of environmental concerns into their business activities and relations with their stakeholders. The concept also refers to the previously mentioned 3 dimensions environment (planet), society (people) and economy (prosperity).
Most companies believe that much more money is needed to act sustainably, which customers will never pay. Ultimately, however, it will benefit the company. Companies will become more efficient through sustainability, improve their brand value, provide a platform for innovation, help attract and retain employees, reduce costs and strengthen relationships with stakeholders.
Click here to find out how Smithers-Oasis voluntarily follows the CSR guidelines.
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- Prof. Dr. Nick Lin-Hi (2018), Corporate Social Responsibility
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