Business-As-Usual : Not an Option

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--By Vaijayanti Khare

The world economy is expanding, the lifestyle is comfortable, more goods and services are available and disposable incomes climb higher. Life expectancy is rising, infant and child mortality falling, education and literacy increasing. Water, sanitation, healthcare are better available. Travelling is faster and cheaper. Wheels and cyber entertainment for one and all is a necessity.  Super-moms, Super-dads are in. Techno-savvy kids are in too. 

All is well.

And yet, there is this reality, this presence, that all is not well. 

The resources’ crunch increases. There are water wars, oil wars, territory disputes, urbanisation woes, the shortage of basic amenities. The production, processing and manufacturing increases at the high costs of pollution, poisoning and depletion. Consumption increases at the cost of sensibility. The divide of the haves and have-nots is ever widening. 

Planetary boundaries are being pushed. Trespassed. Made perilously toxic. At alarming, increasing proportions. This is no sci-fi. It is real. 

Business-as-usual is no more an option. 

Let us take a page from the Coca-Cola story – as it is told today. The website opens with this bold paragraph. I see it as a confession (of what it did not do in the past), a direction (how it has changed course now) and a system (how it can be replicated by others), all in one.  

It would help to remember that a certain village in southern India had refused, protested and eventually thrown out such a company that wished to set up a plant to use their drinking water resource for the bottled fizz!!

‘Inside every bottle of Coca-Cola is the story of a company that understands the priceless value of water, respects it as the most precious of shared global resources and works vigorously to conserve water worldwide. We can’t imagine treating water any other way.

Clean, accessible water is essential to the health of communities. It is critical to ecosystems and indispensable for economic prosperity. And it is essential for our business. Water is the main ingredient in our beverages, central to our manufacturing process and necessary for growing the agricultural products we use.

Unlike most other global companies, we have a special interest in protecting the local water sources that sustain communities because the communities that host our bottling plants are also our consumer base—we sell our products where we make them. If those communities stay strong, our business will stay strong. So in addition to the ecological and ethical imperatives that drive our water stewardship, we also have a vested business interest in preserving and improving local water sources.

Our global system is becoming more efficient in its water use by reducing the amount it uses per liter of product produced, even as production volumes increase. We are recycling wastewater, sometimes returning it to nature cleaner than required by law. And our system is replenishing, or balancing, the water used in our finished beverages—an estimated 35 percent so far, with an ultimate goal of being water neutral by 2020 through projects intended, among other things, to protect or conserve water resources or to bring safe drinking water or sanitation to people in the communities we serve’. (http://www.coca-colaindia.com/sustainability/world)

When I first met the young Managing Director of the newly structured and redesigned Nimbus Holdings Pvt Ltd, I was impressed by his attention to this detail of developing his agribusiness. He was passionate about bringing in sustainable measures at each point of his supply-chain, right from the farmer to the cold-warehouse to the markets and the consumer. Not said in these words, but what he was planning to bring in was a ‘not-business-as-usual’ model for the growth and success of his organisation.  And he sure has many green-miles to go to achieve what he envisaged. 

The ‘first family’ of business in Nepal, as it is fondly called, the organisation where I have been for all, except six months, of my working life in Nepal, had a broad sweeping vision of bringing in newer ways of doing business that was not ‘business-as-usual’, but sadly and often, many of these socially responsible ways got shelved in the face of costs, competition and profitability. Larger the organisation, more the green-miles to cover.

So, what is the scenario of business-as-usual versus sustainable business? Why is it such an uphill task to bring in the latter?  Is it just another fashionable phrase, here today, gone tomorrow. 

In plain language: sustainable business is where social progress is at par with prosperity. Where the GDP is not the be-all-and-end-all. Where bottom line and profitability have the added weightage of social inclusiveness and resources management. Where success includes care for the ecosystems, people, ethical values and all round sustainability. 

In Michael Porter’s words, “models of human development based on economic growth alone are incomplete; nations that thrive provide personal rights, nutrition and basic medical care, ecosystem sustainability, and access to advanced education, among other goods, and it is possible to measure progress toward providing these social benefits.”

Porter’s Social Progressive Indexranks 133 countries on multiple dimensions of social and environmental performance in three main categories: Basic Human Needs (food, water, shelter, safety); Foundations of Wellbeing (basic education, information, health, and a sustainable environment); and Opportunity (freedom of choice, freedom from discrimination, and access to higher education). 

The framework focuses on several distinct questions: Does a country provide for its people’s most essential needs? Are the building blocks in place for individuals and communities to enhance and sustain well-being? Is there opportunity for all individuals to reach their full potential? The results of the research (conducted in 2015) are very telling. 

The United States may rank sixth among countries in terms of GDP per capita, but sixteenth on the Social Progress Index. The nation ranks thirtieth in personal safety, forty-fifth in access to basic knowledge, sixty-eighth on health and wellness, and seventy-fourth in ecosystem sustainability. 

Even though other fast-growing nations such as India and China have not been able to attain a level of social progress commensurate with their economic progress either, certain countries, much smaller and less endowed in natural or capital resources have done better. Rwanda! It has “knocked the cover off the ball” in terms of social progress. “They went through a genocide, were devastated, and, to bring the society together, there was a consensus, led by the president, that their first job was to re-energize and restock the society and the capacity of their citizens,” says Porter. The country achieved a 61 percent reduction in child mortality in a single decade, and today, primary-school enrollment stands at 95 percent. Rwanda also ranks high for gender equity, as women constitute a majority of the parliament—partly because a lot of men were killed, but also because the country set out to be a place where women are not just equals, but leaders. 

All is not lost. A green light is being shone into the dark tunnel. Many an organisation, and yours could be one of them, has begun practices towards a more sustainable business. Companies that manage sustainability are reaping benefits for themselves and for society. More than 50 percent of senior executives consider the management of environmental, social, and governance issues, ‘very or extremely’ important in a wide range of areas, including new-product development, reputation building, and overall corporate strategy.

In all the articles so far, I have discussed the best practices of business structure, strategy, operations and systems. With ‘business-as-usual’ or BAU as it is called, I shall bring in the Next practices of sustainable business and development. 

In closing, Sustainability means more than just Green and CSR rolled into one.  Business-not as-usual is the way to go. 

Vaijayanti Khare is known for her dynamic engagements in the corporate, academic, social and development fields in Kathmandu over the past decade. Her writings are a reflection of her hands-on work, insights, studies, success and challenges.

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