profit from sustainability?

Is there profit to be made from sustainability is a question I am often asked at sustainability events, presentations and workshops. It has cropped up again today on publicity for the excellent Think 08 event next month.

In some ways the question misses the point on what sustainability is about – ie the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental sustainability – where profit is a key element of economic sustainablity.

Within our industry if we could really move from lowest price thinking (ie meaning competition is on profit levels), start moving to ringfenced profits, then we can start to focus on the other two ‘bottom lines” with more vigour. Allowing real profits through the supply chain would have the same affect. Energies applied to trying to make a project profitable can be applied to environmental and social sustainability issues, whilst the project players remain economically sustainable.

Really tackling the 30% or so waste within our sector, (waste in time, costs, materials and most importantly management energy), would more than pay for sustainability improvements whilst allowing a profitable, viable and economically sustainable industry.  For example, recent on-site studies have shown the true costs of skips to be £1300 or so.  One medium size contractor I was working with recently used on average 12 skips a week across 20 projects.  Do the math, as they say!

I often quote Yvon Chouinard – a mountaineering and eco hero of mine – founder of Patagonia clothing, who says that “every time I have done the right thing for the planet I have made a profit…even if the right thing cost twice as much”. Of course it needs the appropriately correct organisational ethos in place to achieve this. (see Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman for inspiration)

Take a look this review extract of Let my people go surfing:

Yvon Chouinard is one of the most important business leaders around today because he’s made a values-lead business highly profitable. Any aspring business leader (and, more importantly, those already running businesses) should be forced to read this. It’s the future.

So yes, there is profit in sustainability – currently, we cannot see it for the barriers and blinkers within the baggage we carry.  We cannot fix todays problems with the same thinking that created the problems.

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