Moral and Ethical Side of Sustainability
“The first principle of good banking good energy is to have principles.”
Regarding this prefatory quote — it is just me toying around with the hugely popular Citizens Bank advertising campaign in the US supporting much-needed reform of the banking industry. You would remember the 2008 global recession has been blamed widely on unethical business practices by some members of the financial sector. The magazine Alberta Oil suggested if one were to substitute “good energy” for “good banking” the fit would still be perfect.
Arguably the first official definition of sustainability as given in the 1987 Report of the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future, sounds heavy on the moral and ethical responsibility side:
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs [boldface emphasis mine]”.
In an earlier blog I briefly traced the development of the concept culminating in the now more widely embraced ‘triple bottom line” definition, also known as “TBL” or “3BL”, which seeks to integrate the “three pillars” of “people, planet, and profit” into one sustainability concept.
SAP, the self-avowed “market leader in enterprise application software”, and which has
been devoting a significant amount of its attention to products and services for managing corporate sustainability challenges, declares in its Special Report – Sustainability:
“Sustainability does and should occupy a moral high ground. Right now, resource consumption is racing ahead of what the earth can sustain, and the problem will only get worse as developing nations start consuming their fair share. Sustainability is certainly an imperative to which our employees and customers assign high value”.
A Sound Business Case for Sustainability
In other words, the study gives ample evidence that to be sustainable makes good business sense as it positively affects a company’s bottom line.
In its preface the report declares:
“Sustainability is garnering ever-greater public attention and debate. The subject ranks high on the legislative agendas of most governments; media coverage of the topic has proliferated; and sustainability issues are of increasing concern to humankind”.
For a concise, straightforward treatment of a sustainability concept that is not limited to the environmental idea of “going green” here’s an excellent FAQ link: What is Sustainability? authored by the editor-in-chief of MIT Sloan Management Review .
An excerpt, as given below, should prove illuminating:
[Q.] “Do you mean that it [sustainability is]about ‘going green?’”
[A.] “Definitely not (though we will help you learn something about that, too). We think that sustainability as a business issue will be core to every organization’s strategy agenda. It will transform management and strategy in ways that might appear to have little to do with sustainability in its “going green” sense. We’ll move beyond mainstream thinking to explore this frontier and its implications to the management practitioner and executive.”
From the moral/ethical standpoint we can confidently say sustainability is the new face of corporate social responsibility. On the other hand, its business side is captured in the extended equation: Sustainability = Waste Reduction (or Elimination)
= Increased Efficiency = Higher Productivity = Greater Profitability.
Let me go back to this theme in succeeding posts. In the meantime, I wish to cite a perfectly good example of an oil sands company that is making waves in its pursuit of technological innovations resulting in efficiency.
The Signal Example of SUNCOR
I wrote previously, in a personal favourite post of mine (so far), that “it’s not exactly an oxymoron to use ‘sustainable’ and ‘oil sands companies’ in the same sentence.”
And we do have documentations of continuing success on how key companies operating in the Alberta oil sands are facing the challenges and seizing the opportunities headlong. They do so in a manner that treats sustainability correctly – not as a side-issue but as a core element of their enterprise agenda.
When I mentioned in that post a blind item about a company that has undeniably invested in water-use efficiency, and is reaping the benefits of new technology for water recovery and recycling — I actually had SUNCOR in mind.
I’d like to highlight now this company’s truly ‘ground breaking achievement’ in tailings management that promises to speed up process of tailings ponds reclamation four times!
How important is tailing ponds reclamation? Well, if there is one emotionally laden image that has projected the global view of oil sands as “dirty energy resource” it is undoubtedly the tailing ponds. But beyond that legitimate concern for image-correcting and -rebuilding lies OUR obligation to the local and global community, and the posterity, that disturbed earth be reclaimed and returned to its natural life and functioning.
In the words of Dr. James Hyne, Professor Emeritus, University of Calgary, and a bitumen belt pioneer:
“Are we on ‘mission impossible’? …… It’s the image. That was the significance of the ducks,” he says in explaining why accidental deaths of a statistically tiny number of common birds in a waste tailings pond riveted hostile global attention on the oil sands last spring. “It was the picture in people’s minds. The migrating ducks flew 5,000 miles, almost got home, got covered in oil, and didn’t make it.”[boldface type mine]
SUNCOR’s signal achievement is its proprietary $470 Million (to-date) technology that has given birth to revolutionary tailings management. Called the TROTM process it hastens land reclamation from 40 years to about 10 years!
Watch this video and, better still, go to their website and get more information on this excellent example of Canadian technological innovations that, to borrow the thoughts of Dr. John M. Deutch, have yet to gain commensurate recognition.