Your questions about sustainable business practices answered

  • sustainable business
Insights from professionals
Published last year

Looking for ways to integrate sustainability into your business and become part of the solution towards a sustainable economy is an excellent first step for a business leader to take. However, in this competitive sector, decisions aren't always obvious, and advice is well-received. Denise Delaney, director at SustainAbility, talks to about sustainability in business, the current challenges companies face, and the benefits of leading a sustainable business.

Denise Delaney

Denise Delaney

An American expat in England, Denise is a Director at SustainAbility. She leads sustainability strategy and stakeholder engagement projects with an emphasis on pharmaceutical, food and beverage and energy sectors.

How would you define sustainability or sustainable business practices?

Sustainability in business is meeting society’s needs within ecosystem limits. For us, sustainability is about making the future the cause of the present.

What are the benefits of sustainable practices for a business?

International business can reap a number of benefits from sustainable practices – from saving on costs due to efficiencies, to improving reputation and trust with customers and consumers to attracting and retaining talent. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by the UN in 2015, which sets out the sustainable development agenda the world needs to achieve by 2030, represent a business opportunity. In a phrase, it’s about emerging markets and providing access to essential goods and services that many still lack access to – healthcare and medicines, food, financial services, etc..

What do you think about the current climate amongst businesses and their attitudes to sustainability? Is there an appetite amongst big businesses to take significant steps in that direction?

There is a huge appetite among many companies. SustainAbility has 20 years of annual data (the GlobeScan-SustainAbility Leaders Survey) asking sustainability experts about which companies are the sustainability leaders. Leaders in sustainability include the likes of Unilever, Interface, Patagonia, Marks & Spencer and many others. Future corporate leadership on sustainability rests on integrating it into core business strategy; setting innovative, visionary goals; and demonstrating honesty, transparency and trust.

How does SustainAbility engage employees of corporations in sustainability projects?

We are often working most directly with teams and champions inside companies from sustainability, corporate responsibility, environment, or public/external/corporate affairs. However, our engagements often have us engaging one-to-one or in working group settings.

Are businesses becoming more competitive when it comes to sustainability, getting inspiration from each other?

Absolutely. Ratings – such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) – and others, including our GSS survey, generates competition.

What are some of the most simple steps small to medium-sized businesses can take to become more sustainable?

Ask questions about your business and find the answers. What are your impacts – on the environment and society? Are they positive or negative? What is your social purpose?

You are an expat in England. How do you find sustainability awareness in the UK in comparison to your home country?

I am from the United States originally. I was not working in this field in the US and cannot compare directly. However, many would agree that Europe is the home to many companies leading in sustainability. Regulation in the UK and Europe has also tended to be supportive.