What MBA students need to know about corporate sustainability efforts in the 21st century

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As climate change awareness spreads, more people across the globe are concerned about the impact businesses have on the environment. The trope of the corporation that dumps its toxic waste into clean rivers is incredibly pervasive in popular culture, and many consumers have begun demanding sustainability efforts from these organizations. So, it’s worth considering what corporate sustainability means for you as a business leader and an online Master of Business Administration student at the Washington State University Carson College of Business.

Consumers and climate change

Since the start of the year, Gallup has done extensive research on the attitudes regarding climate change. One of the most recent revealed that 59% of Americans believe environmental protections are more important than energy production. Meanwhile, 56% said the environment is more important than economic growth. Furthermore, concerns about global warming are at their three-decade high. Forty-five percent of Americans worry “a great deal” about climate change, up from 37% in 2017. In addition, 62% said the effects of this environmental phenomenon are occurring right now as opposed to the future, up from 59%.

In general, environmental concerns have steadily risen among consumers over the last two decades. Public attitudes such as these are very important for business leaders to remain aware of and can guide decisions involving products, marketing and supply chains. If managers and leaders use or create strategies that support environmental protection, consumers may be more willing to support or buy from their businesses.

Employees and climate change

Environmental protection isn’t just a concern of consumers. It’s also on employees’ minds as well. According to Deloitte, millennials in both mature and emerging markets see climate change as a major concern. This mindset is seen in the U.S., where millennials make up the bulk of the workforce. As their margin increases as baby boomers and Generation Xers eventually head into retirement, it’s important for employers to consider their concerns. Establishing environmental protection initiatives, whether as a manager or executive, may make your business more attractive to millennial talent.

Both consumers and employees want to work with environmentally friendly corporations.

Modern efforts of corporate sustainability

Today, it’s hard to come across a business that doesn’t emphasize sustainability in some manner. Unfortunately, all corporate efforts are not created equal. As an online MBA student, it may be a good idea to observe the strategies of more successful businesses as you consider which sort of company or position you’d like to achieve after graduating, or how you would like to affect your current organization. If you decide to enroll in our finance track, for example, you may be interested to know that some financial organizations refuse to extend loans to organizations that do not meet certain sustainability criteria.

Thankfully, with so many companies committed to sustainability, this information isn’t hard to find. In fact, Forbes’ releases an annual list of the world’s 100 most sustainable companies. For a brief overview of different corporate efforts, consider the top four, which are listed below:

Siemens AG

The German conglomerate tops a number of corporate sustainability lists, not just Forbes. It’s possible this feat stems from the fact that its environmental efforts are incredibly broad. Almost half of Siemens’s German locations run completely off green energy, and its products are designed to reduce emissions. Cumulatively, they prevented over 521 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being generated.
Siemens plans for its own facilities to be carbon neutral by 2030. Some of the steps it has taken toward this end-goal include:
• Investing over €100 million (approximately $116.7 million USD) in efficiency improvements which, once fully implemented, will net approximately €20 million (approximately $23 million USD) annual in energy savings.
• Implementing a variety of sustainable resources, including solar panels, wind turbines and intelligent energy management systems, with the goal to produce 10% of its electricity demand within its own facilities.
• Resolving to reduce emissions produced by company cars by 30% by 2020.

Solar panels are one way Siemens and many other businesses reduce their carbon footprints.

Storebrand ASA

This financial services company, based in Lysaker, Norway, describes its sustainability efforts as an endeavor to satisfy its current customers while preserving the opportunities of future generations. The company pledged to not invest in organizations whose operations take a significant toll on the environment. It based this standard on several international protocols, including, but not limited to:
• The Kyoto Protocol
• The Convention on Biological Diversity
• The Basel Convention on the control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal

Cisco Systems Inc.

International technology provider Cisco lists environmental sustainability as one of its focus studies. The company’s efforts span many areas – for example, it plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as increasing the number of its physical products returned for refurbishment, resale and reuse.

So far, according to its statements, Cisco seems to be on track when it comes to ensuring its supply chain is sustainable. All of Cisco’s manufacturers and logistic partners report their emissions to the environmental charity CDP, formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project. Ninety-two percent of its key suppliers do the same. Overall, the organization plans to cut its supply chain’s GHG emissions by one million metric tons by 2020.

Cisco’s other environmental commitments include:

• Reducing packaging
• Increasing the number of products returned for resale, reuse and refurbishment.

As for its accomplishments, Cisco has successfully made green improvements to its operations, including:

• Obtaining LEED certification for over 15% of its facilities
• Switching completely to electricity generated by renewable sources at all of its U.S. buildings
• Creating 60 projects with the goal of reducing product packaging
• Using at least 35% post-consumer plastic in the Cisco IP Phone 7861

Danske Bank A/S

Similarly, Danske Bank has committed to choosing environmentally friendly suppliers and products. The German financial organization lists several requirements for each of its office resources, including things as seemingly inconsequential as:
• Office supplies
• Carpets
• Furniture
• Paint
“Since the environmental impact varies from one supplier to the next and from one product type to the next, the Group has divided its purchases into various product groups that are subject to specific environmental standards,” the company explained.

Focusing on corporate sustainability as an online MBA student

No matter where you are in your online MBA career – whether you’re about to graduate or have yet to enroll – it’s never too early or late to consider corporate sustainability. If you’re concerned about the environment, you can start looking at employers known for their sustainable efforts or consider how you as a business leader in your current company would start such initiatives.

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