Sustainability is a symphony, not a grouping of raving solo acts

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When I was a youngster growing up near the fishing harbour at Kalk Bay, if any of us became too big for our boots or foolish, one of the boys would catch us unawares and jet chokka (squid) ink into our face.

I won’t talk about the ungenteel language that spewed out so even the seals below would look up (wondering what the commotion was all about).

Although you can’t do that sort of thing in the adult world of business – whatever the size of your business – one sometimes one feels so frustrated by what happens in practising sustainable solutions that you’d like to spray some obnoxious fumes towards all the people who are falling all over the place doing their own thing.

Just one quick example before I talk about sustainable approaches:

As a small business you might research a community project and offer your specialised skills to help people become economically active. Unfortunately, someone from your company without telling you sponsors a dubious golf day where the money raised is piffling after all the “expenses”. The left-over pennies are put into an unknown charity where the owner/manager with no accountability whatsoever takes the lion’s share of the proceeds and directs it towards their family budget for household groceries with scant money going towards the intended beneficiaries.

It’s an extreme example, of course.

But let me tell you it happens.

And on a much bigger scale than you’d think.

It breaks my heart.

What’s the solution?

In a smaller company – even a start-up looking to take advantage of the benefits of sustainability – it is easier to coordinate initiatives, projects and programmes that make sense for employees, customers, suppliers and the community.

But once your business grows to a certain size, you need to be professional about things. Your managers or section heads need to talk to each other so that developing skills, investing in your community, environmental or resource management projects make sense to everyone and benefit the business.

It may even mean having one person who can coordinate all things that fall under the umbrella of sustainability so that you can be more credible, prevent window-dressing and green washing up front.

Sustainability is more like a symphony orchestra where you have individual players but you’re all playing to the same music score. It’s not about some wild boy band with all its musicians performing as solo artists – doing their own thing. Sit through an opening act band like this, as I did recently for one hour, and you’ll know what I mean.

If you’d like more ideas, case studies, examples of what to avoid and what to do, join the “Sustainable Ideas for Your Business” newsletter on

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PS It could save you money and avoid feeling like you want to tear your hair out after you’ve got yourself involved in some “sustainable initiative” that’s just a simple waste of your time and money.

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