When it comes to sustainable business practices in Alberta, virtually every advancement has started with a few breakaway companies that believe doing the right thing, even if it means going against the grain, will lead to competitive advantage. Over time, other companies start to follow them and those companies set the bar over and over again.
There may have been tolerance for return on investment at all costs — sometimes at the expense of social development and the environment — but that’s no longer the case. Today, sustainability is not just a trendy concept but one that Alberta organizations must embrace to maintain their competitive advantage.
“Society is responding to some of the issues that we face as a globe,” says Ray Luchkow, an Edmonton-based director in the Advisory Services practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “Over time, companies and organizations have had to respond to the needs of consumers and the aspects or dimensions of sustainability are becoming mainstream in business.”
Mel Wilson, a former associate partner, agrees. “Sustainability is something that is valid, has relevance to the business community and if managed properly, will actually work to a business advantage,” he says.
Embracing a robust sustainability strategy can give an Alberta-based company numerous advantages over its competition. These include:
Having a strategy in all industries is a necessity as sustainability has become a hot topic. “In the energy sector, sustainability issues are driving fundamental business decisions,” says
Alistair Bryden, a Calgary-based Advisory Services partner and leader of PwC’s national Utilities practice.
A significant part of corporate sustainability is awareness and adaptation to changes in society's expectations, including new laws and regulations. For example, in 2007 the Alberta government introduced new regulations requiring large Alberta-based facilities to report on their greenhouse gas emissions and begin reducing their emission intensities. The companies with strong sustainability departments and management plans were better positioned to foresee and respond to these regulations, while others were caught off guard and had to scramble to comply.
That’s why all companies—large and small, public and private—should have a sustainability plan. But there are few steps needed to build sustainability into an overall business strategy. Here are the main steps that are required:
Luchkow says he’s seen many companies that were either not aware or chose not to be aware of the sustainability issues facing them. In some cases this behaviour has damaged a company’s reputation and cost them in terms of market share.
For organizations to stay in business, there have to be many different opportunities to grow. However, in Alberta many firms are working towards gaining a balance between economic growth on the one side and environmental performance on the other. They are striving to achieve and maintain that balance when they make short and long-term corporate decisions while taking environmental, social, economic, and financial issues into consideration.
“The time to act is now,” says Luchkow. “This is not a concept, this is not a theory, this is reality. In many respects, if you don’t pay attention to issues of sustainability in your business, you may be out of business."