The Business Case for Sustainability

American Society of Civil Engineers says if companies are smart about sustainability, they can make 51-81% more profit.

As a contractor, you’re working with engineers every day to make sure the projects you’re building will be successful and profitable. Working with contractors, The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) wants to educate the industry about how companies can actually be better off from the bottom up when they incorporate sustainable practices into their business.

“Companies can actually do very very well or even a lot better if they are smart about how they approach sustainability,” Bob Willard with Sustainability Advantage says. “They can grow their revenue, save money, increase the value of their shares, engage employees and minimize risk.”

These are all things successful companies are trying to do anyway, Willard says, so the strategies associated with improving sustainability are a great engine for company success.

“We need to clean up our collective act,” Willard says. “Buildings are a huge contributor to the issues we’re facing, but they’re also a huge part of the solutions to the issues if we’re smart about it.”

Five Stages of a Sustainable Company

According to Willard, there are five levels or stages for companies when it comes to their “sustainability journey”:

Pre-Compliance: In this stage, the company in not complying with the regulations in the jurisdiction where they are operating. It ignores any notions of sustainability and flouts environmental, health and safety regulations by cutting corners and hoping to not get caught.

Compliance: Here, the business manages its liabilities by obeying all labor, environmental, health and safety regulations. It reactively does what it’s legally bound to do and nothing more.

Beyond Compliance: At this stage, companies begin to capture low hanging fruit with money savings on water, energy usage, materials and waste. “There is enormous potential at this stage for companies to save money,” Willard says. “That’s the bait that starts to get them to understand that sustainability can help their business and go further."

Integrated Strategy: By Stage 4, the firm has transformed its business model into a sustainable borrow-use-return design. It re-brands itself as a company committed to sustainability. It injects sustainability principles into its values and company DNA.

Passion and Purpose: Driven by a passionate, values-based commitment to improve the well-being of the company, society and the environment, a Stage 5 company helps build a better world because it is the right thing to do

Willard says that most organizations are in the third stage or below, with the hook being the temptation to save money.

“It’s pretty hard to resist the temptation to be able to clean up their act, be more efficient and save money,” Willard says. “Then as companies start to do these things, they realize it’s not as painful as they thought to have less impact on the environment as a result of these things and they start to see there are other opportunities as well.”

So What’s Holding the Industry Back?

Mindset. According to Willard, that is the one word that is keeping the industry back from growing sustainable practices.

“It’s very frustrating, but business leaders cannot fathom that being more responsible both socially and environmentally is good for business,” Willard says. “They think that the objective of business is to make money, and it is, but they don’t think the objective of looking after the environment and society is going to help them make money. That’s where the problem is. They can’t connect the dots.”

Willard says that it’s taking an incredible amount of time for business leaders to see what sustainability is requiring them to do and the benefits these practices hold for their customers, employees and products.

“Sustainability champions need to be better at helping business leaders see the benefits in terms that are relevant to their priorities,” Willard says.

Need help moving your company out of stages one through three to start seeing the financial benefits of being sustainable? Look to the educational resource section of this issue and take the idea of hiring a sustainability manager under consideration.

Has your company seen financial improvements from making sustainable changes? Let me know at jstoikes@acbusinessmedia.com

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