A recent conference I attended that focused on the meeting of the minds between quality professionals and corporate social responsibility (CSR) practitioners got me thinking about what it means to be “sustainable.”

Forget the semantics and definitions: professionals engaged in the sustainability, CSR, green, or efficiency worlds all share the common goals of keeping their organizations competitive while increasing the positive effects they have on people, markets, and the environment.  Here is what I see as the three main drivers, or the 3 W’s, of sustainability:

Water: While alarmist speak is of benefit to no one, the fact is that water is now both a festering political and social issue.  Global farming has increased pressure on water supplies in nations including Brazil.  Multinationals realize that to protect their businesses, they must partner with organizations like WWF.  Society has to rethink its assumptions of what is plentiful and what must be paid for, and that includes how we source and price water.  We can find different sources of energy; developing different sources of water is a far more complex problem.

Waste:  The discarded and dumped includes the usual suspect, energy, and all natural resources.  More companies now realize that wasted energy is money thrown away so they are responding in kind.  But then there are the other resources.  It is true that some areas of Europe and North America are more forested than they have been in centuries; other regions in the developing world, however, face massive deforestation.  Metals and minerals have increased in value as they have become more difficult to extract and are sourced from more remote areas.  Beyond whether you believe we are consuming at a rate of 1.5, 2, or 3 planets, the point is that from a business perspective, all of these resources are now spiking in price.  Smart companies and the supply chain, quality, and CSR professionals who work within those firms will be tasked more and more with running lean and mean operations.  The trick is to not fall into the lean and mean trap and risk frustrating your firm’s stakeholders.

Wisdom:  Which leads me to the third W of sustainability, Wisdom.  Companies will not find all the answers within their CSR practice team, sustainability committee, or within the C-suite.  More than ever before, companies must reach out to all of their stakeholders, inside and out, from the farthest supplier to the shortest-tenured employee to their customers.  Companies like Intel and Timberland have long mastered this approach.  John Elkington recently mentioned that social innovation will define companies’ role within society this coming decade.  And he is spot on.  HP and Cisco are leaders in this arena, so watch for other companies to follow and even exceed their accomplishments.  Do not believe it is just the young who have the ideas and passion--the perspective of folks with decades of experience are just as valuable.

What do you think?  Please share your thoughts.

Learn more about how Leon Kaye can work with your organization and stay competitive in a changing marketplace where customers demand more accountability and responsibility from companies.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.