WWF Report: Building a business case for sustainability

Source: WWF, 21 February 2002

WWF and global communications company, Cable & Wireless plc, have published an innovative and comprehensive toolkit, entitled To Whose Profit?, which provides the first clear ‘route map’ for managers seeking ways to develop a business case for bringing environmental, social and ethical issues to the forefront of their company’s operations.
Business is beginning to understand that environmental, ethical and social factors can and will have a significant impact on their future. Long-term sustainability and prosperity can be the rewards of a business that identifies sustainable development as an opportunity rather than a cost or a threat. However, the difficulty for managers within any business has always been knowing where to start, how to make the connections, and how to build a case which will win support at a strategic level.

Bringing sustainability into the boardroom
To support businesses in understanding and implementing a strategic approach to sustainability, WWF’s Business Education Unit commissioned Loop Environmental Networks Limited and URS to produce To Whose Profit?. The publication supports visionary individuals in a company, who are pushing social responsibility in their business, with the ammunition to bolster their case, increase their standing and bring sustainability issues into the boardroom, showing their importance as a potential source of competitive advantage and increased shareholder value.

It is a ‘principles to practice’ toolkit which sets out in simple language the arguments for embracing sustainability as a business imperative. It takes the manager simply and clearly through arguments and ideas, and explores the links with financial success. It outlines potential tools and techniques that could be used to build a business case at each stage. The toolkit brings together a wealth of research, statistical information and case studies to show how sustainable development issues affect business activities and vice versa. The concluding chapter of To Whose Profit? gives an overview of how equity market managers might assess the benefits of an individual proposal.

To Whose Profit? was written by consultant Vicky Kemp, a Director of Loop Environmental Networks, with over eleven years’ experience in corporate environmental management, project management and consultancy.

The toolkit has been produced as a working tool, to be used as a practical practitioner-focused guide. It demonstrates how social, environmental and ethical data can be gathered and presented in a way that is acceptable to a financial director.

The toolkit is intended for use by anyone within a company who has primary responsibility for developing proposals for improved ethical, environmental and social performance, as well as equity market managers and any other influential individuals such as specialist advisors to companies.

The benefits of sustainability can be hard to define and often require a long-term view at odds with a short-term profit-driven approach.

Why should companies care?
So why should companies care? A number of recent high-profile events have illustrated how sustainability issues are becoming key concerns for business. The commitment of most governments to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change has highlighted the potential for carbon-saving technologies and opened up markets for more sustainable products and services. Add to this the increasing social expectations of accountability, pressure from employees increasingly concerned with the values held by the companies they work for, investor pressure demanding ethical decisions, not to mention customers whose buying patterns reflect their principles and beliefs, and the case for sustainability becomes hard to ignore.

However, sustainable development is not about damage limitation when things go wrong, nor is it about paying lip service to key stakeholders. A sustainable business strategy maximises opportunities such as higher productivity levels from better trained staff, gaining access to new markets through an improved understanding of consumer needs, and developing an enhanced reputation that leads to greater staff, customer and investor loyalty.

Many things go on in companies that might not affect the bottom line immediately, but which analysts examine very carefully when making investment decisions. If companies want to maintain and enhance their shareholder value, then they cannot afford to ignore To Whose Profit?.

WWF has an excellent track record and reputation for pragmatic partnerships with business, which have delivered effective solutions with benefits for both business and conservation.

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