News

What is Real Sustainability in Business?

What is Real Sustainability in Business?


The executives of one company Bertels has worked with, Suncor Energy Inc., have put a lot of time and thought into exactly how they articulate the notion of sustainability to different audiences. Although they were successfully communicating those efforts externally (Fortune magazine named the company one of its Ten Green Giants in 2007), the word had contested meaning internally. Employees on the operations level kept talking about sustainability as something done by head office in Calgary. “If you talk about the triple bottom line, promoting social well-being and preserving the environment with a young truck driver in Fort McMurray, it’s not going to resonate,” Bertels says. “So for him, it had to be framed as ‘operational excellence.’ Your job is to do things right, be safe, not spill stuff on the ground.”

Rolling “sustainability” into the broader context of “operational excellence” in internal communications was a crucial shift. It was the same message, just different language. Part of the effort was to break down the old paradigm that sustainability and profits are necessarily at odds. “Suncor said, ‘This is not something extra that we’re doing, this is core to our operations,’” she explains. “They were really trying to make the point internally that facilities with environmental compliance have high productivity, because those are the facilities where people care, where they prioritize health and safety and the environment. Operational excellence is about all those things; it’s not about trading one off the other.”

Rob Safrata BC Business - Sustainability
Rob Safrata’s Novex Courier vehicles carry their own message of what he calls “conspicuous sustainability.”

Rob Safrata, CEO of Richmond-based Novex Couriers, has gone a long way in embedding sustainability into his business. After taking Novex over in 2001, he started with an environmental assessment. The company’s biggest source of carbon emissions was obvious: the vehicles, which together travel as much as 20,000 kilometres a day. He began to convert the fleet to hybrid cars, natural-gas vans and electric trucks, and he estimates that the new vehicles now save about 88 tonnes of CO2 a year. The vehicles advertise their own environmental virtue, a good example of “self-oriented value” or what Safrata calls “conspicuous sustainability.”

Spurred on by his wife Jacqueline Koerner, the founding chair of Ecotrust Canada, Safrata followed with dozens of initiatives, including reducing paper, water and energy, composting, and adding a training budget that employees can use for a gym membership, a cooking class, a family activity, or “anything that brings you energy and makes you happy.” The benefits of these are many, he says, including saving money, reducing risk, lowering staff turnover and receiving better job applications. Several customers have come to Novex specifically because of its green delivery services. And there are those impalpable paybacks as well. “When people are proud, there is tremendous energy,” Safrata says, “and that’s something that has stayed. It gets us through some tough times.”

Safrata’s business follows the triple bottom line philosophy (people, planet and profit), but he stresses that it’s not a chicken-and-egg relationship: profit is definitely the most important. Still, he identifies with Bertels’s point that the deeper you go, the less important it is to prove that sustainability pays off. The habits become like breathing: natural and necessary and unworthy of comment. Let’s call it post-sustainability, or maybe just nothing. “I always laugh when I hear somebody say, ‘Let’s make our business more sustainable’ and they sort of use the word any way they want. They throw it in there because you’re supposed to,” he says. “We don’t think of it as being a sustainable business or operating sustainably. It’s just how we do business. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.”

 

Marcie Good | Image: Brian Howell |
BC Business April 04, 2011


Our Partners:
placeholder
placeholder
placeholder
placeholder
placeholder