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Sustainability and Resilience: What the World Needs Now

Look around and it’s likely that many of the organizations that you do business with, and perhaps the company that you work for (or want to work for), are demonstrating a commitment to sustainability. Sustainability has become a top priority for CEOs but what is it? In 1987, the United Nations (UN) defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  

Sustainability is not just environmentalism, although that is an aspect of it. Sustainability is a set of values that are shared by individuals and organizations worldwide who demonstrate their commitment to these values every day through their decisions and actions. Embedded in sustainability we also find concerns for social equity and economic development, as illustrated by the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals.

In recent years much of corporate America, including many large multinationals, has signed on to support the sustainable development goals. Investors are also starting to take notice. The movement for ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investing is strong and growing, driven by investor demand and regulatory pressure. So strong, that CEOs are starting to take notice. According to a 2021 IBM survey, 37% of CEOs view sustainability as a priority over the next three to four years. According to McKinsey, “In the very near future…[sustainability] will be as fundamental to doing business as compiling a balance sheet: consumers and regulators will insist on it.”

For those who say, ‘but what about greenwashing?’, which involves conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally sound. It’s happening and as a result, today’s consumers don’t necessarily trust companies to be transparent or to put their health and safety before the bottom line. Increasingly, however, consumers are calling out companies that get caught greenwashing, or boycotting companies that are failing to combat human rights abuses or protect animal rights. These forms of economic pressure will hopefully encourage companies to change their practices and lead to increased accountability.

So we have a ways to go, but progress is being made, and organizations are recognizing that sustainability provides an opportunity to gain or strengthen their competitive advantage. These organizations recognize that the way to build trust is by making a clear, transparent commitment to sustainability, and by providing regular status reports. Examples of this include Home Depot, Amazon, and Aveda, and we’re going to be seeing more of this in the coming years in relation to every industry that affects us on a day-to-day basis from food production to fashion. We’re also seeing it in the 
lifestyle changes that people are making such as switching to electric vehicles, demanding sustainable or less packaging, and digitalization to save paper. We’re proud, for example, that our portal (myitsmacademy.com) has made it possible to deliver digital learner and trainer materials in lieu of printing paper manuals. We’re also proud to have in our portfolio several classes that emphasize the role digital technology plays in enabling both sustainability and resilience.

So if sustainability is about the values that influence our decisions and behaviors on a day-to-day basis, then what is resilience, and why is it also important? The Stockholm Resilience Center defines resilience as “the capacity of a system, be it an individual, a forest, a city or an economy, to deal with change and continue to develop”. It is about how humans and nature can use shocks and disturbances such as a financial crisis, climate change, or… oh let’s say a global pandemic, to spark renewal and innovation. Simply put, it’s about how we prepare for, bounce back from, and at times benefit from extreme or extraordinary events. Something we’ve all had to learn to do in recent years, although as is the case with sustainability, we have a ways to go.

Sustainability and resilience can’t be viewed as an either-or proposition. The best outcome is achieved when approaches to both are integrated. Focusing on both sustainability and resilience provides the ability for us as human beings, the families we are a part of, the amazing planet we live on, the organizations we work in and do business with, and the communities we live in to continually renew themselves in order to provide what the world needs now while paving the way for future generations.

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