PART I – Environment, Sustainability and Organizations: Who Should Step Up?

Over the next six weeks, Reflect & Learn will publish a three-blog series on integrating environment and sustainability in organizational practices and culture. We look forward to reading your comments!

By Mélissa Rodrigue

A special thanks to Dr. Charles Lusthaus for his thoughts and insights.

When I joined the Reflect & Learn team a little over a year ago, I had very limited knowledge of organizational assessment and change. Though I still consider myself very new to the field, being part of the team has pushed me to think about organizations in a new way, to question and study how organizations react and adapt (or attempt to maintain the status quo) based on internal and external realities.

My personal research over the last few years has revolved mainly around environment and international treaty law, so it seemed only normal that my first inclination was to look at organizations through the lens of environment and sustainability.

While research into the root causes of environmental concerns has increased over recent ponsulakdecades, perhaps the most pressing question is now: Who is going to do something about it?   

Reports like “The Business Case for the Green Economy: Sustainable Return on Investment” (UNEP, 2012) place the onus on private sector organizations to change their practices and create a green economy. The report’s main argument is certainly logical: because supply chains are intrinsically linked on a global scale, natural disasters in one area of the globe have direct and immediate repercussions on multiple other regions.

By making the move toward sustainable practices, private sector organizations can set sector standards (sharing the cost of better practices with other stakeholders), drive policy change, and increase prosperity over the long term. Protecting biodiversity helps ensure continued access to the natural resources used to create products, as well as respond to consumer demand for improved environmental practices.

Though some organizations have demonstrated increased consideration for environment and biodiversity conservation in their business model (e.g. PUMA and Unilever), many are hesitant to take the leap. The UNEP report blames the short-term vision that characterizes the private sector, markets and governments, as well as a lack of understanding of the linkages between business practices/sustainability and human rights.

ponsulak2Another report published a few years earlier by Deloitte, “Sustainability in business today: A cross-industry view” (2010), does note an understanding of those linkages among the companies surveyed, but instead indicates a lack of action on their part in response to environmental issues. Many executives claim they require more information about the relevance of sustainability for their companies before making significant investments in that area (Deloitte, 2010, p. 6). This hesitation points to the importance of tailoring sustainability to different sectors, so as to encourage companies to take the steps and actions required (Deloitte, 2010, p. 7). When one considers that “[g]lobal revenues for companies involved in the renewable energy markets are projected to rise to more than US$ 300 billion annually by 2020,” it becomes clear that the competitive advantage gained from enhanced environmental practices is definitely not negligible (UNEP, 2012, p. 3).

Bottom line, the question is not whether employees are encouraged to recycle paper or drink ponsulak3from reusable water bottles. The fundamental concern lies in whether or not organizations – the usual suspects like mining or oil companies, yes, but also all private sector organizations, NGOs and Foundations – are taking the time to study and understand their environmental footprint (e.g. their use of paper, the pollution they produce), and making the necessary adjustments to ensure sustainability over the longer term, based on their sector and specific practices.

Organizations spend a lot of time discussing financing considerations and efficiency, but a lot less time on assessing their environmental imprint. But assessing organizational practices in order to support a more sustainable world is critical today – what is your organization doing?

The next blog in this series will explore how some organizations and thought leaders have proposed integrating environment and sustainability in organizational accounting practices and strategy.


Deloitte Consulting LLP. (2010). “Sustainability in business today: A cross-industry view,” 20 p.

United Nations Environment Programme. (2012). “The Business Case for the Green Economy: Sustainable Return on Investment,” 42 p.

Images courtesy of, ponsulak and smarnad.

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