Sustainability, or sustainable business development, has become a popular and appropriate concept for business today. Sustainability is not a thing or a program. It is a way. Sustainability was defined by the Bruntland Commission in 1987 as the process by which organizations "meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." A more recent definition of sustainability is found in the ISO26000, 2010 standard and reads, "Sustainable development is about integrating the goals of a high quality of life, health, and prosperity with social justice and maintaining the earth's capacity to support life in all its diversity." Perhaps the most practical definition, and the one on which this presentation will rely, is also found in ISO documents and reads, "…the ability to maintain or develop performance in the long term." A large part of the sustainability concept is survivability.
The concept of sustainability is typically described as having three dimensions as depicted in Figure 1 below.
This presentation will focus on the social dimension and, more specifically, the health and safety aspect. In this context, health and safety refers not only to an organization's employees, but all its stakeholders. In order to sustain its business and survive long into the future, any organization must continually improve health and safety performance.
However, it must also be understood that these dimensions of sustainability must be seen as interdependent. Over-emphasis on any one dimension results in an organization out of balance. For example, if an organization focuses its efforts almost exclusively on economic results and does not adequately consider the impact of the social and environmental dimensions, the marketplace will likely perceive that organization to be a poor corporate citizen. By the same token, if an organization overly invests in corporate responsibility or green activities, economic results may not justify its continued existence. There must be a balance.