Can continued recession drive increased sustainability?

We are so lucky to occasionally rub shoulders with the brightest minds and most effective leaders and thinkers in sustainability.  One such luminary is Hugo Kimber.  We are both humbled and proud to have his thoughts shared here. (See Hugo’s comments here, too.)

A key part of sustainability is resource management. Efficient use of resources helps to reduce consumption of finite global resources and their emissions, but critically reduces costs of operation through reduced energy, less food waste and water consumption. At a time when businesses are focused on reducing costs, it seems strange that sustainable business management has not leapt to the top of the business agenda given its relationship to cost saving. This may be because the sustainability agenda, despite great advancement in the last few years is still seen as philanthropic, driven by what we call Evergreens and communications experts with limited understanding of the subject matter who indulge intentionally or unwittingly in greenwash.

 Efficient Consumption

The damaging rows about climate change science, the efficacy of wind power and associated taxpayer cost, and increasing green taxes have distracted many in the corporate world from the central issue of sustainability. This is that increased population, finite resources and increased global development are not sustainable on present trends. Efficient consumption will help to address this challenge as will the need for companies to safeguard their commercial sustainability through increased efficiency.

We must capture data from events

The global hospitality industry is a good sector to highlight in this regard. Despite some tremendous efforts by committed companies and individuals the gross impact on the industry is limited as a percentage of the global total. Measurement of resource impacts is still in its infancy and too often there seems to be an emphasis on increased sales without a corresponding effort in cost management. For some years we have been measuring the financial impact of energy and transport types to enable companies to make better decisions for their profitability and sustainability. It is still astonishing that most of the sector is still largely unable or unwilling to gather data for effective measurement and management. This is seen as desirable but not essential, when in fact commercial imperatives normally drive corporate behaviour. In some cases the data exists, but the cost of offline data collation is low priority and seen as time consuming and costly. It can be automated although this requires simple low cost realignment of data capture and is seen as cost negative to business, not the cost positive benefit that it produces.

 A greater focus on resource management

The long recession, which shows no signs of abating, may produce a greater focus on resource management and we are beginning to see systems and products that will enable this. Evolution is the latest and for us the most impressive to date, moving measurement on from pretty pictures to hard edged resource and commercial management. Arguably the companies that continue to ignore this may be the ones that go out of business or underperform in the recession, time will tell. However, for those who bemoan the state of sustainability in general, the recession and the prospect of its long duration could be just the stimulus required for more effective sustainable business management. It is time to focus on this message, ahead of the drivers presented by reputational risk management, corporate responsibility, brand value and employee engagement, which all have great value, but less obvious and measureable return on investment. For this reason they do not hold enough attention at board and senior leadership level, recession will change that if sustainability managers and practitioners focus aggressively on the “money shot”.


Hugo Kimber

The Carbon Consultancy

September 2011

1 Comment

  1. Ana Inacio says:

    Hi Hugo,
    I agree with you a 100%. Unfortunately, event though the sustainability and greem movements mean well, the messages have been sent across the wrong way, very often with a preaching and negative tone.
    Businesses will embrace sustainability if they realise that this means their business will be sustainable, i.e., will be around for a long time.
    Recession can indeed provide the framework to introduce this subject on business terms and can lead to a different and better economic model.

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