Just a few short years ago, sustainability was not the household word it is today. Then, one could flip through a newspaper or magazine and not be bombarded with tips on how to “go green” or reduce your environmental footprint. And, more often than not, environmental groups and the business community were on opposite sides of the fence.
In the magazine industry, the joke goes like this: “An environmentalist, a paper mill rep and a magazine publisher walk into a bar. The environmentalist says to the other two…well, nothing. Those three would never drink together.” Folio magazine cites the joke as an example of a “perception [that is] quickly being dismantled as growing numbers of collaborations make the adversarial relationship just an outdated stereotype.”
How quickly this world is changing! Tough economic times, soaring fuel costs, the rise of China and India, Middle East geopolitics and a growing consensus on climate change are just a handful of factors that have forced this vast paradigm shift.
According to Wikipedia, sustainability is “a characteristic of a process or state that can be maintained at a certain level indefinitely.” The word’s most popular definition can be traced to a 1987 U.N. conference, which defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
No mere buzzword, the idea of sustainability continues to gain ground here in central Illinois. Caterpillar, of course, leads the way as one of a growing number of companies to issue an annual sustainability report. At Bradley University’s 32nd McCord lecture, held in mid-April, Mary Kay Kaufmann of Nalco Company shared her thoughts on sustainable development; the following week, the City of Peoria co-sponsored a strategy session on the topic.
Analysts see the changes at Cat and elsewhere as a sign that the greening of corporate America is unstoppable, and that products and services that help solve environmental problems can be good for business. In this very issue, we see such an example in our profile of Robert Jones’ environmentally friendly cleaning companies (see page 52). This is a topic with legs—it’s not going away anytime soon.
And this concept of sustainability isn’t just about the environment—there are broad lessons for business in general. Today, more than ever, one must be nimble and unafraid to change, constantly evolving to keep pace with the times. Here at CIBP, in addition to reducing, reusing and recycling more and more of our paper products, we will be rolling out a series of major changes to this publication designed to do just that.
Sustainability and business planning increasingly go hand in hand—I would argue that the two are one and the same. The allocation of finite resources to ensure long-term viability is not a foreign concept to business owners—it is the very essence of business. IBI