IEMA says business must become sustainable to survive

A new report launched by the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) claims that businesses must adapt to be more sustainable in order to deal with ‘global megatrends’.

The IEMA, an international membership body for more than 15,000 environment and sustainability professionals, launched the report ‘Beyond the perfect storm: The corporate sustainability challenge’ yesterday (18 May) at the EdieLive event.

It builds on the 2014 IEMA report ‘Skills for a sustainable economy: Preparing for the perfect storm’ and, according to IEMA, provides an ‘updated storm warning’ to businesses across the world. 

According to IEMA, various global challenges ‘indicate the pressing need for business action and innovation’. These include climate change, an increase in population, loss of natural capital, resource scarcity, and global development challenges.

 ‘Storm warning’

IEMA says business must become sustainable to survive

The 2014 IEMA report outlined the environmental challenges that businesses face and highlighted the role that environment and sustainability professionals play in the transformation of business to more sustainable ones.

Calling for ‘innovative’ business models, the new report says the ‘business as usual’ approach is ‘driving us past the planet’s environmental and social boundaries’. It also states, however, that it’s not too late to resolve sustainability challenges through innovation and moving away from ‘sustainability trade-offs’.

It also stresses the importance of the ‘strategic and the tactical skills’ of individuals working within the environment and sustainability industries and uses real-life examples of companies using ‘long-term sustainability practices’ such as Marks & Spencer, ArcelorMittal, Wiles Greenworld and EY to highlight what can be achieved using such an approach.

Sustainable procurement presents a ‘significant ongoing challenge’

The report revealed the main ‘motivations, levels of understanding and barriers’ in the switch to sustainability based on a poll of 327 professionals working in the sustainability and environmental industries. Respondents indicated:

·      the three main reasons organisations engage in sustainability are to improve reputation, address client expectations and transform the business;

·      the main barriers to delivering sustainability are financial, lack of management support and lack of clear strategic or operational alignment;

·      75 per cent of professionals indicate that sustainable procurement is proving to be a significant ongoing challenge;

·      ‘sustaining the business model’ is the motivation for engaging in sustainability for only seven per cent of organisations.

According to the report, over 60 per cent of those surveyed see corporate sustainability as a ‘change process where the organisation seeks to understand material issues, impacts and dependencies in order to improve and transform their organisation’.

It also claimed that sustainability roles are ‘actively enabling business transformation programmes’ and people now have ‘a more positive than negative response’ to professionals in the sustainability industry.

The poll and report conclude an IEMA engagement programme, which began with the publication of the white paper ‘Defining Corporate Sustainability’ in 2014, and also included workshops throughout 2015, which aimed to provide ‘focus and clarity for the profession’.

‘Very real tangible, financial and reputational benefits’

Nick Blyth, IEMA’s Policy Lead and author of the report, claims the report shows organisations have reached a “critical time” in their “ability to thrive in the future” and that businesses unable to think to the future will be “unable to reap the rewards” sustainability can offer.

He commented: “Organisations can transform and mature towards the ambition of the truly sustainable business, but they need to establish a long view and look way beyond the ‘perfect storm’. The urgency is clear but so too is the opportunity with very real tangible, financial and reputational benefits for those organisations at the vanguard.

“There is no doubt that some businesses are further on in their journey to sustainability than others. The innovations being spearheaded by such businesses are inspiring and show what can be achieved when a long-term horizon is used. Many more need to follow suit; ‘Beyond the Perfect Storm’ captures this vision and encapsulates what is possible.”  

Majority of IEMA members favour EU membership

The IEMA also recently published the results of another poll, which was designed to assess the views of its members on UK/EU environmental policy.

It was the first in a series of online polls planned by the organisation regarding the EU and the views of IEMA members on the possible outcomes of the upcoming EU referendum.

The poll suggested that the majority of IEMA members favour EU membership, with 82 per cent saying membership has had a positive effect on UK businesses and environment.

The majority also agreed that the UK has benefitted from the environment and climate policy of the EU with 70 per cent of those polled saying leaving the EU will have negative effect overall.

‘Beyond the perfect storm: The corporate sustainability challenge’ is available from the IEMA website.