Failure in sustainability could bankrupt businesses — Quartz at Work

Failure in sustainability could bankrupt businesses — Quartz at Work

Twenty years ago, when the Internet was rapidly becoming part of everyday people’s lives, most companies had to make a choice.

They could change what they did or how they did it, often radically. Or they could stick with the status quo and try to weather the storm.

What happened to those who didn’t adapt, like video rental giants and booksellers who didn’t take their online rivals seriously?

“A lot of these companies have disappeared. They don’t exist,” said Blair Taylor, managing director of talent and organization at Accenture, and North American head of the inclusion and diversity consultancy. According to Taylor, we are at a similar inflection point when it comes to sustainability.

Until recently, sustainability might have been seen as wellness, maybe even a buzzword that was floating around but didn’t really mean much. But not anymore, Taylor said.

Today, the combined pressure of customers, employees, potential employees and regulators puts companies at another crossroads: either to tackle and reduce the damage they cause to the planet and its people, or to risk putting the key under the door.

“Companies now recognize: if we’re just spectators, if we don’t take an active role in trying to make things better, it’s actually going to be to our detriment,” Taylor said.

“I’ve seen a palpable change in this area, and I’ve been doing this work for over 25 years,” he said. “I think there is now a fundamental recognition that if we in business are to be successful, we need to pay attention to these massive shifts that have taken place” in attitudes towards everything from ‘hiring people from different backgrounds to sourcing raw materials more fairly, to emit less carbon.

Taylor was talking to Quartz ahead of today’s release of a new clue by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Accenture, Ipsos and Nielsen, on how people from diverse backgrounds are portrayed in media, including film and television, newspapers and magazines, sports and games. The index seeks to create benchmarks for how the media fare when it comes to representing people from different backgrounds equally and with nuance. He found that film, TV and print fared better, while games lagged. The report also found that trust in brands increased when an audience saw those brands as representing people from different backgrounds. Accenture argues that this is a great business opportunity.

Today’s WEF report focuses on diversity and equity, which are part of sustainability. But the broader concept includes both how a company treats people and the damage it does to the environment.

There’s a “sweet spot” where companies can make changes that mitigate damage and simultaneously make money, Taylor said. An example might be the realization that hiring from the widest possible pool of candidates will result in better hires, who will also understand the needs of more diverse clients. It would also be fairer.

But this sweet spot is hard to reach. Becoming truly sustainable is difficult and requires a high degree of commitment and investment. And for some companies, achieving this may not be possible at all.