Long-term sustainability is a business concept that has gained considerable attention following revelations about global warming and dwindling natural resources. At its most basic level, long-term sustainability suggests that a company will improve its chances of survival in the future by ensuring that resources used by the business are responsibly managed and maintained. According to a 2010 study by the United Nations, the vast majority of corporate chief executive officers (CEOs) believe that long-term sustainability is a major factor in long term success.
The business practices that have fueled the modern global economy were not developed in a time when environmental impacts were understood or even seriously considered. During the Industrial Revolution, when large scale business truly began to shape the globe, science had not yet developed a widespread means of measuring environmental damage. Even while environmental science made great strides in the 20th century, low levels of infrastructure and gaps in communications meant that information about commercial and environmental exploitation in developing nations often went unreported or unnoticed for years. As the global economy has developed, so too has a sincere concern for the sustainable use of resources and the practical management of the environment.
The simplest form of long-term sustainability is best explained with a basic example: if a logging company cuts down all the trees within its range, the company will go out of business for lack of supplies. In order to ensure a future for the business, the replanting of trees and management of cutting zones must be incorporated into the cost of the business as an investment in the future. By ensuring a sustainable amount of wood, the company ensures its supply.
Long-term sustainability becomes more complex when considering how the resources of one business can affect the resources in another. If, by clear-cutting trees, the logging company destroys riparian vegetation, thus damaging streams and killing off river ecosystems, the freshwater fishing industry could be damaged. If the freshwater fishermen then begin to build unsightly and polluting fish farms along a popular waterfront area, the tourist industry could be hurt. Long-term sustainability requires a wide point of view as to the impact of doing business.
One of the major concerns with the concept is that regulatory measures are often vague and subject to change. A logging company could invest in replanting white pine for the future, only to have a regulatory agency decide that white pine can't be logged in 20 years. There is certainly an element of risk in long-term sustainability investing, but proponents argue this risk should be combated by getting involved in sustainable practices immediately. By proving that a company is interested in protecting resources and conducting business responsibly, the owners of that company stand a higher chance of being involved in or consulted by regulatory committees that will determine future practices.
The larger point of long-tern sustainability suggests that, at the bottom level, people are the most vital resource. No matter how many trees are planted, a company will die if there are no customers. Global warming is an enormous threat to commerce, with the potential to disrupt infrastructure and damage normally fecund areas of the planet. By ensuring a livable, sustainable environment for humans, companies hope to ensure a profitable and sustainable environment for business.