Sustainability means stakeholders before stockholders

Environmental stewardship has become an essential quality marker for responsible corporate behaviour.  Consumers and businesses expect B2B companies to play an active role in society, and help their organisation do the same.  The word “sustainability” is used freely to refer to any organisation that has the long term vision to leave the world a better place, but sustainability’s developing a new meaning.  In global business terms, sustainability is also now used to refer companies who place the interests of stakeholders above shareholders.

Mission statements in head offices around the world will generally refer to duty to shareholders AND stakeholders but always in that order.  That’s changing, and it’s refreshing.  Demonstrating an awareness of responsibility to employees, the immediate community and society at large not only attracts the money of ethical investors but also young people entering employment who want to feel that they are making the best possible choice in whose mast they post their colours to.  Whether or not business schools will amend their curriculum and stop teaching that shareholder profits are the only responsibility of capitalism is yet to be seen, but as a recruitment tool, we’re going to see “human sustainability” growing in importance.