Before we get too far down this road of philosophical discussion and comparisons between the various areas that sustainability comes into play, let’s define it.
1. The capacity to endure
2. The long-term maintenance of responsibility
3. The responsible management of resources and resource use
4. Managing impact
These definitions are clearly different, but they all touch on similar things. They talk about capacity, management, maintenance, resources and impact. These five words are what I think of when I think about sustainability. They are all important and you can’t succeed in any area without most if not all of these things. If even one is lacking, there will be severe consequences.
That is why sustainability is such a big topic in so many areas of our lives. If we don’t practice it, we see big problems. If do practice it, we see success in the short term, but more importantly, we are setting ourselves up for long-term success.
So, how do we practice sustainability in business? It’s simple. We focus specifically on each of the five areas and move forward from there. Let’s take a look:
Capacity: How much do we have? How many customers can we serve? How many products can we make?
Management: This goes without saying. Is there a business on the planet that doesn’t have a manager? Management also refers to other systems in the business. You have to manage in order to be successful.
Maintenance: There is a reason we have repair people, maintenance crews, facilities managers and others that are charged with maintaining parts of our business. If you don’t maintain something, it won’t last very long.
Resources: This is something that hits home with any business person. You need resources to get started. You provide resources to employees to serve clients. You provide resources to clients as the core of your business. Without resources, we are unable to function.
Impact: The impact that various factors have on your business are summed up by all of these things. When something happens, there is an impact. For every action, there is a reaction. It may be large, it may be small and it may be something that takes a while to realize. Regardless, there is an impact to everything we do in business.
That is sustainability in a nutshell. You have to mind the five factors in order to be sustainable in any area. Business is no different, as you can see. The absence of even one of these things could quickly bring a successful business to a screeching halt or prevent a new business from getting started at all.
Wellness is a part of business. With employee health, there is an impact on the business no matter how you look at it. If an employee group is healthy, they are more productive, it costs less to insure them and there are better results overall.
That is well-documented and hopefully only becoming more widely realized. On the flip-side, if employees are not healthy, there is also an impact. They are less productive, it costs more to insure them and results are not as good.
This is the definition of impact. The health of employees is affecting business everywhere right now, whether they are trying to make an impact or not. These companies often want to be sustainable. They often pride themselves on sustainable business practices and processes that help them remain efficient, cost-effective and profitable. All of these things lead to sustainability.
There is one problem. What if a business is not putting a priority on healthy employees? If your company is simply paying more for healthcare each year and ignoring employee health, the model you are in now is not sustainable. Not only is this model missing all five of our pillars, which will disqualify it from most of our definitions, but it is missing the core of sustainability: the ability to endure and long-term survival.
Healthcare as we know it is only getting more expensive. Businesses are finding that it is more and more difficult to provide for employees. As the costs rise, both employees and employers are feeling the pain. The problem with the current model is that no one is working for sustainability. Employees are not managing their resources or impact. Employers are not maintaining their workforces and the whole system is being operated above capacity… hence the continued cost increases.