The impact of corporate sustainability can influence many areas. How important is it for corporations to practice sustainable practices? There are three main factors to consider:
Quite simply, a corporation with no sustainable practices in place can have an alarming impact on the environment. The areas which can cause the most damage include:
- Energy usage: Heavy consumption of oil and gas & inefficient use of resources
- Packaging & manufacturing: wasted resources & inefficient transportation
- Pollution: Greenhouse gas, acid rain, & other toxic waste emissions
There is a high cost attached to environmental damage. For example, a recent United Nations report estimated that in 2008, three thousand of the world's biggest corporations were responsible for a combined $2.2 trillion of damage to the environment. As staggering as that sum is, it is even more astounding when one realizes that that number accounts for approximately one-third of that group's combined sales (estimated at $6 trillion). Such stories are in the news all the time. For example, the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a year after the fact, has still had an untold impact for thousands of Americans and resulted in several hundred billion dollars of damaged property, destroyed livelihoods, and health issues.
In addition to all of the factors mentioned above, a corporation can impact the community that supports. The health of its shareholders and employees should be a corporation's primary concern. When employees suffer because of unsafe work practices or dangerous conditions, productivity and goodwill both start to sag. In addition, heavily polluted or otherwise affected areas can cause a migration of employees and community members. For example, the BP Gulf oil spill caused many members of the affected areas to relocate as their livelihood was now unsustainable. Historically, similar cases of oil or nuclear spill sites have turned once thriving areas into ghost towns.
However, it has been reported that increased sustainable initiatives actually lead to increased profit for companies. Recent case studies of several evolving corporate sustainability programs estimate that increased sustainable practices may increase company revenues by 38-66%, depending on the size of the business. These new revenues can come through saved energy costs, reduced personnel costs, decreased manufacturing costs, and increased productivity and consumer goodwill.
In addition, such sustainable practices increase the value of a company by giving voice to environment-conscious investors, consumers, and employees, who use their buying power to sway high level executive decisions. Companies that ignore sustainable influences risk losing money and sales, which in turn compels their shareholders to look for sustainable alternatives. However, when such values are firmly embraced by a corporation, they may be instilled as well in its employees, who then may begin to embrace greener lifestyles on their own.
Top United States sustainable companies
Corporate Knights, a Toronto-based media company and sustainability reporter, recently released their 7th annual report of the world's best sustainable corporations. The list below represents the top five US companies with the most green-friendly sustainable practices:
- Johnson & Johnson
- Intel Corp.
- General Electric Co.
- Agilent Technologies Inc.
- Johnson Controls Inc.