Is compliance an ambitious enough goal for sustainability?

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Compliance with local environmental and health and safety legislation is important. So is other compliance requiring social and economic development spending.

But is this enough? Is a tick box ISO listing and a scorecard something for companies and institutions (that use taxpayers’ monies) something to be proud of and pat themselves on the back?

With the economy knocked out on the floor, companies are cutting back on everything including sustainability. This means cutting back on sustainability, shelving projects and doing the bare legal requirement.

How do these activities contribute to lowering the impact on planetary resources? 

Global agendas continually hijack corporate sustainability. Companies and institutions (using taxpayers’ monies) latch onto the latest global agenda in fear of being caught out and being shamed in public. This leads them to making bold declarations and setting unachievable targets.

Companies and institutions (who use taxpayers’ monies) should better understand what is required from them and should set sustainability goals themselves that go beyond mere compliance. But who at the top is going to initiate this? It requires an analysis of the company, its activities, its impact on the environment and people. This analysis is a preliminary decision-making tool to determine what needs to be done. Sustainability programs then need to be put in place to achieve the targets and goals. This may take years in some instances. Companies and institutions (who use taxpayers’ monies) need to follow through to the end.

Yet a company might be lauded  as a champion of sustainability when you buy one of their cars, fridges, cell phones or a bag of maize meal, how much less energy has been used to bring this product to market. What resources have been consumed? How has the community been impacted? Is the packaging recyclable? How much energy will be required to recycle the packaging and the product when it is no longer usable?

Sustainability starts at home.

Getting away with the compliance mindset costs the company less. To many managers that makes business sense.

Sustainability should not be used as a cover-up or some publicity stunt to draw attention away from what is really happening.

The need to do better should be ingrained and inculcated into the company culture. It should be a way of behaving in all aspects of business. When managers understand and recognise the need for sustainability only then can we begin the conversation about best practice in sustainability and going beyond mere compliance.

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