Business as usual approach pushing the world past its environmental boundary, says IEMA

Companies operating with a "business as usual" approach are driving the planet past its environmental and social boundaries and will need to adapt to address the combined force of global megatrends, a new IEMA report has revealed.

Launched on Tuesday (17 May) at edie Live, the “Beyond The Perfect Storm: The Corporate Sustainability Challenge” report has claimed that businesses need to move away from “sustainability trade-offs” and focus on driving a new era of innovation and resolution geared towards tackling issues such as global food security and a growing population.


“Organisations can transform and mature towards the ambition of the truly sustainable business, but they need to establish a long view and look way beyond the ‘perfect storm’,” IEMA’s policy lead Nick Blyth said. “The urgency is clear but so too is the opportunity with very real tangible, financial and reputational benefits for those organisations at the vanguard.”

The report highlights that while businesses are interacting with sustainable initiatives to stave off the effects of climate change, resource scarcity, water stress, and to help embed the Sustainable Development Goals, companies are largely interested in using sustainability to improve reputation, address client expectations and transform the business.

But in order to reap these benefits many companies are still encountering the same problems. The report revealed that while 75% of professionals are struggling to implement a sustainable procurement process, the main barriers to contend with revolve around finances, lack of management support and lack of clear strategic or operational alignment.

Short-term thinking

The report – which follows on from IEMA’s 2014 White Paper, Defining Corporate Sustainability – calls on businesses to spearhead the innovation movement, while also establishing new ways to measure return on investment other than the traditional financial sense.

Speaking exclusively to edie ahead of the report launch, Blyth claimed that one of the “fundamental challenges” that businesses need to account for when approaching sustainable practices, is the reluctance to shift from a short-term financial mind-set to one that accounts for long-term environmental issues and megatrends.

“We’re on a trajectory where people are stuck on short-term thinking; where quarterly and annual reporting to measure accounts doesn’t necessarily translate to actual change,” Blyth said. “We need broader visions and to work collaboratively inside organisations across the supply and value chains to try and change the business model approach.”

Fortunately, research from the report revealed that sustainability roles are developing and are actively enabling businesses to transform operational programmes. With more new workers – dubbed Generation S – now seeking out these sorts of job opportunities, more than 60% of sustainability professionals now view corporate sustainability as a “change process where the organisation seeks to understand material issues, impacts and dependencies in order improve and transform their organisation”. 

Matt Mace

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