Business sustainability tools

There are many ways to approach business sustainability and numerous elements need to come together. A number of guiding frameworks, standards, KPIs (key performance indicators), programs and disclosure formats to choose from such as:

  • Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
  • Triple bottom line reporting
  • Integrated reporting
  • United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
  • United Nations Global Compact
  • CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project)
  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the ISO 26000 international standard for CSR
  • Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) – eg generic recommendations from the Australian Stock Exchange.

A cycle of planning (including stakeholder engagement), implementation and evaluation is needed as well as an integrated quality improvement approach that delivers the results you seek. These need to relate to the ‘material issues’ you identify from your stakeholder consultation.

Research shows that the effort that goes into small stand alone projects may be wasted if your business does not have: leadership with an overarching vision; an approach which engages internal and external stakeholders in a meaningful way throughout the process; accountability systems that are embedded into the organisation; and relevant, manageable data (and key performance indicators). Furthermore you can’t manage, what you don’t measure!

This may appear to be a huge task. Here are just some of the business sustainability tools available to help organisations along the way. Many include case studies and practical examples.

Sustainability tools for business

Here are a just a few of some of the resources already available for those getting started on sustainability (depending on the context of your organisation’s work).

Whatever approach you choose, it’s important to focus on those ‘material’ issues which matter most to your stakeholders and use appropriate metrics/evaluation systems to keep informing your planning cycles as you move forward. This presentation looks at that journey forward through the various stages of maturity in sustainability strategy, and looks at how the balanced scorecard can help monitor and drive progress.

An introduction to business sustainability on video

More free Sustainability toolkits and other resources

  • The New South Wales Chamber of Commerce has put together an easy to follow 50 page toolkit for business sustainability around the office available here.
  • 2012_Toolkit_FrontA Resource Efficiency Toolkit for small to medium enterprises to save energy, water and waste has been developed by the Central West Catchment Management Authority in partnership with the Bathurst – Orange – Dubbo Sustainability.
  • Here’s a ‘how to’ guide to getting started on sustainability. It was authored by Christopher Hodge and published by the International Facilities Management Association in 2009.
  • For business, here are 8 questions to help you get organised as you work towards sustainability from GreenBiz.
  • The Natural Step is well known around the world and has developed a series of free downloadable toolkits here.
  • Bob Willard is a sustainability author and speaker who is happy to share his slide presentations on his website here. He has also provided a series of 8 podcast interviews on various topics which can be found on the New South Wales Government website called It’s a Living Thing.
  • Better Bricks Energy Efficiency Playbook 2010 2010 (Slideshow).
  • More resources can be found via Ceres, a non profit organisation based in the USA which mobilises a powerful network of investors, companies and public interest groups to accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainable business practices and solutions to build a healthy global economy. Ceres was set up six months after the 1989, Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster. Ceres established the Global Reporting Initiative for sustainability reporting and it leads the Investor Network on Climate Risk. Its achievements and history are outlined here.

Practical publications about business sustainability

There are a great many publications on business sustainability (see also Background Reading). Here are just some.

  1. ‘Sustainability: The corporate challenge of the 21st century’ by Andrew Griffiths (2000).
  2. ‘Organizational Change for Corporate Sustainability 3rd Edition’ by Dunphy, Benn and Griffiths (2014).
  3. ‘Corporate Sustainability, Social Responsibility and Environmental Management – an introduction to theory and practice with case studies‘ by Camillieri (2017). 
  4. ‘The business guide to sustainability – practical strategies and tools for organisations 2nd Edition’ by Hitchcock and Willard (2009).
  5. ‘The global transition to a two degree economy has begun – here’s how you can prepare (a guide for business)’ by Denis-Ryan and Kelly (2017).
  6. One of the most practical and comprehensive among them is ‘The Sustainability Handbook’ by William R. Blackburn, published by Earthscan-Routledge in 2007. The book is adaptable to most organisations from businesses to schools and non-government organisations. The book includes many templates, planning tools, stakeholder engagement approaches, case studies and options for measuring success.
  7. Another practical but shorter guide is ‘The Green Executive: Corporate Leadership in a Low Carbon Economy’ by Gareth Kane and published by Earthscan-Routledge in 2011. The book’s structure includes four parts: Why do it?; The Global Context; Practical Action; and Making it Happen. There are 18 interviews with senior-level executives from a range of sectors is presented as ‘A View from the Frontline’.
  8. ‘The Green Scorecard: Measuring the Return on Investment in Sustainability Initiatives’ is written by Patricia Pulliam Phillips and Jack J. Phillips (published 2011 by the ROI Institute). This easy to carry paperback focuses on their patented methodology and metrics for measuring the success of sustainability projects. The book makes the maths easy and shows how to build a case for sustainability projects in a way that anticipates the potential pitfalls. The book goes well beyond quantiative methods and takes a triple bottom line approach that can be tailored to any organisation, big or small.
  9. ‘True Green @ Work: 100 ways you can make the environment your business’ is a short, very visual, Australian book written by Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin (ABC Books, 2007). Unfortunately it may be out of print and is being heavily discounted in shops. Proceeds from the book went to Clean Up Australia and the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainability. Kim McKay in Sydney has won a prize from the US AAAS for her children’s book on ’100 things you can do to save the planet’.

Check out the Background Reading and Communication and Behaviour pages of this website and other individual topic pages (all works in progress).