Last updated: Purpose and the C-suite: Social sustainability is mission-critical

Purpose and the C-suite: Social sustainability is mission-critical


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Sustainability, by definition, encompasses environmental, economic, and social well-being. However, social sustainability is often overshadowed by environmental sustainability.

For businesses to be both sustainable and profitable, we must put people, the planet, and profits on equal footing.

Let’s examine three ways organizations can get started prioritizing people – employees, customers, and communities – to achieve social sustainability and gain business benefits.

What is social sustainability?

Social sustainability is the concept of operating without negatively impacting people, local communities, or society as a whole. Concern for physical, mental, and emotional health is the central focus of social sustainability, and means that all processes, systems, structures, and actions taken are done so considering the wellbeing, greater good, and health of current and future generations.

Most businesses have a good understanding of environmental sustainability, but may not be as familiar with social sustainability.

“Businesses’ social license to operate depends greatly on their social sustainability efforts,” according to the United Nations Global Compact.

While a lack of social development can prevent business growth, companies that take action to benefit society can open up new markets and innovation, the organization notes.

To incorporate social sustainability into their operations, businesses focus on a variety of initiatives, from hiring practices and employee support to projects that benefit the community they operate in and much more.

Here are three core social sustainability strategies:

  1. Fostering workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion
  2. Supporting fair labor practices
  3. Diversifying supplier networks

A diverse workplace gets results in more ways than one

Workforce diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) does more than cultivate an environment where all employees can thrive. Workplaces that foster diversity and equity are also more creative, innovative, and profitable.

In other words, focusing on DEI isn’t just better for your people, it’s better for your business, too.

Researchers have found that inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovative and get 2.3 times more cash flow per employee. A study conducted by McKinsey & Company found that ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their respective national industry medians.

Hiring a diverse mix of people is a positive first step to achieving workplace diversity. However, eliminating systemic bias within your organization so that employees feel a sense of belonging and inclusion is what makes a diverse workforce truly powerful.

How can you get started fostering DEI at your organization? People’s experiences at work are diverse and varied — and employees can be affected by issues happening both inside and outside of the workplace. Asking your employees for feedback about their workplace experiences will help identify opportunities to support them.

Supply chain transparency shines a light on labor practices

While the rise of globalization and outsourcing has created cost efficiencies for organizations around the world, it’s also reduced visibility and transparency across supply chains.

Without this transparency, organizations put themselves at risk by not having line of sight into their suppliers’ employment practices.

And unfortunately, in some cases, these practices can be unethical or illegal, including unfair labor policies, human trafficking, and forced labor.

But asking for transparency from your suppliers isn’t always a fool-proof approach. To prioritize social sustainability, business leaders need the right technology and tools to regain visibility and drive ethical business across employees, suppliers, and communities.

The social benefits of diverse supplier networks

Diverse businesses are an essential part of large companies’ supplier networks and play a crucial role in contributing to more equal, prosperous societies around the world.

Business leaders have an opportunity to enhance their organization’s social sustainability efforts by ensuring that all potential suppliers have a fair and equal opportunity to compete for business within their supply chains.

This can include micro-, small-, and medium-size enterprises, social enterprises, local vendors, and enterprises that are minority owned.

Sustainable businesses that use their buying power to prioritize people benefit the societies and the environment in which they operate.

There’s never been a better time to increase the percentage of diverse businesses that are part of your procurement network—and generate meaningful social value for your organization.

Equality for ALL:
Go from messaging about inclusion to making it a reality.

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