I meet many people who have a keen interest in sustainability but are completely unaware of how to integrate this into their business. Many believe that sustainability is incompatible with their current business practices.

This is the first of a multiple part article on the application of sustainability within business.

Part 1 – Principles of sustainability: What goals does your business wish to achieve?

Principles of Sustainability

The great thing about sustainability is that the lower the goal you start with the better. It is much more important to set realistic goals than ambitious ones.

Firstly you need to choose the principles that you wish to aim for. These are not goals but rather quick questions you can ask yourself whenever our making a financial decision.

The follow are some well know principles to choose from.

Do No harm
Derived from the medical principle of. “First do no harm” and famously demonstrated by Johnson and Johnson with their company credo developed over 30 years ago. This has lead to them making some very difficult product recall decisions based on this principle rather than finical criteria.

If compared to a business plan Do no harm aligns with your mission statement, and lacks specific direction on implementation. It’s more an ethos than a principle.

http://www.jnj.com/connect/pdf/company-pdf/our-credo.pdf

Earth charter
The earth charter is a broad ranging set of principles that cover key questions of social and environmental responsibility.

Adoption of the earth charter provides an excellent litmus test for business activities. Before embarking on sustainability reporting management should eliminate clashes with earth charter principles.

http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/invent/images/uploads/echarter_english.pdf

Global compact
A set of principles for adoption by corporate general management. More direct but softer in their wording.

Aimed at CEO’s looking for strategic goals related to social and environmental issues, the global compact provides a good starting point for companies were change is difficult or costly to implement.

http://www.unglobalcompact.org/aboutthegc/thetenprinciples/index.html

Footprint Network
The footprint network is derived from a simple idea, “how much space does a computer take up on your desk?” extrapolated to human impact on the earths ecosystems the footprint network aims to show how sustainable we are compared to the earths capacity. This currently sits at 1.8 hectares per person and aims to achieve a human development index of 0.8 for everyone. A target that counties like Cuba are close to.

Footprint is more important to organisations with massive impacts e.g. Mining and construction.