Sustainability in business

by Business Case Studies on Monday 10th May, 2010

In recent years, the term 'sustainable' has been used more and more – sustainable schools are being developed, paper is made from sustainable forests and sustainable tourism is growing in importance. Sustainability is a measure of how the needs of future generations are being met through social, economic and environmental responsibility today. Cemex is one of the world's largest building materials companies. It supplies aggregates, cement and ready-mixed concrete to more than 50 countries. The process of supplying these starts with the quarrying of its raw materials. For Cemex to operate in a sustainable way it must consider the effects of the extraction and processing of these raw materials. It does this in a number of ways. For example, using rail and water transport as much as possible instead of roads; and making sure sites are sensitively restored after extraction is complete. Another example is from 2007 when a £6.5 million filter was fitted at the Rugby Cement plant to cut dust emissions.

When the television programme Grand Designs was first broadcast in 1999 it had a 'mission to promote contemporary design in architecture.' Now, Kevin McCloud believes that this has been turned on its head and the message now is about building sustainably. The presenter himself is actually financing and building a development of affordable, energy efficient homes that promote community. Building socially and environmentally friendly communities is something that McCloud firmly believes in. He has commented that sustainability 'ought to be a philosophy underscoring every government and local authority department. (Times Online 8th May 2010)

For businesses, sustainability can be a balancing act. Although good financial performance of firms is vital for survival and growth, the impact on the world's finite resources must be considered if business operations are to continue into the future.

Questions

  1. Define sustainability.
  2. Using the Cemex case study, identify four different ways that the organisation behaves in a sustainable manner.
  3. To what extent should sustainability be the main priority to firms in the 21st Century?

Answers

  1. Define sustainability Sustainability is the measure of how well operations are likely to be able to continue into the future, given the impact on society, the environment and the economy and the finite resources available.
  2. Using the Cemex case study, identify four different ways that the organisation behaves in a sustainable manner Answer may include: – Restoring quarrying sites after extraction – one site is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest – Locating plants near to raw materials to reducing lorry journeys and therefore lower carbon footprint – Using rail and water transport which produce lower emissions than road transport – Increasing the use of alternative fuels – Investment into such things as the filter bag at Rugby to reduce emissions – Planting trees.
  3. To what extent should sustainability be the main priority to firms in the 21st Century? On one hand: – The profile of environmental issues has grown over recent years. Further legislation may be introduced to force firms to be more sustainable so it may be better for them to be 'ahead of the game'. – The reputation of the firms may depend on their efforts at sustainability – Firms may be at a competitive disadvantage if they do not adopt sustainable practices. – Sustainable firms may find it easier to attract investment – The future of the firms may be in jeopardy if, for example, non-renewable resources are depleted However – Effective management is vitally important for a firm to continue in the future – Financial performance will determine the long term survival of a business

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