Sustainability and Business

"This yoghurt pot - could you use it?" - "Of course. For the loudspeaker boxes I'm currently working on." A yoghurt pot in a loudspeaker box? My colleague can give you the details. During the last years I heard several astonishing results. Old boxes, the recombination of loudspeakers and turnout systems and much more are the ingredients. Plus his expertise and experience.


It affects all areas: how people produce and use things and services, how people treat each other and how people respect and care for the environment. "People" includes companies, public authorities and other organizations and institutions: they consist of people.

reduce reuse recycle

These three steps in the waste hierarchy are a concept that - I'm sure - people follow since the Stone Age. Since a few decades this approach has become a social and political topic.

To follow this approach is not only economically, socially and environmentally useful. It is also joyful. You can approach it like a game: Do I really need this? New t-shirt, smart phone, car. How can I reuse it? The t-shirt as a cleaning rag. The bicycle inner tube as material for bags, belts and much more. You can find examples in shops like "Kreis zu Quadrat" in Frankfurt am Main. To which litter type belongs the yoghurt pot?

product people planet

Companies and other organizations can use this approach to 

  • produce, offer and sell their products economically successful,
  • accept responsibility for both their staff and society - locally, regionally and world wide,
  • act ecologically reasonable.

Peter Senge describes PPP in his book The fifth discipline (Blog 19 Nov 2011 - and several others, look for "ppp"). Like reduce reuse recycle is this approach older than you might think. People, companies and public authorities follow it since centuries and more (see above the Stone Age). For instance the German tax accountant and mining administrator Hans Carl von Carlowitz clearly formulated the concept of sustainability - here in forestry - 1713 in his book Sylvicultura oeconomica:

Wird derhalben die größte Kunst / Wissenschaft / Fleiß und Einrichtung hiesiger Lande darinnen beruhen / wie eine sothane Conseration und Anbau des Holtzes anzustellen, daß es eine continuierliche beständige und nachhaltende Nutzung gebe / weil es eine unentbehrliche Sache ist / ohne welche das Land in seinem Esse nicht bleiben mag.
[von Carlowitz (1713) - In: Thomasius / Bendix (2013) p 7]


To take planet and people into account can support economical success. Using fewer resources for the production and selling process reduces costs. Healthy and content staff members contribute more willingly. Anyway - to treat people with respect is a - is no - question of human rights.


Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages.
[http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html (accessed March 16, 2019)]

The declaration addresses the rights of the individual. And what is about the actors? Public authorities, companies and other organizations? Companies have a big impact on the realization and implementation of human rights.

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights 2011

The subtitle is "Implementing the United Nations "Protect, Respect and Remedy" Framework". Two main actors are addressed to protect human rights: the states and their duty and the companies and their corporate responsibility. 31 principles plus commentaries describe basic responsibilities and how to set them into action. The 13th principle may serve here as an example how far reaching responsibilities of actors in business are.

13. The responsibility to respect human rights requires that business enterprises:
(a) Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur;
(b) Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.
[UN 2011, p 19]

The United Nations encourage states to "enforce laws" (Principle 3). Last Monday a discussion took place at the Frankfurt am Main Chamber of Commerce and Industry, whether laws or self obligation would be the better way.

put principles into action

It took about ten years to formulate and to pass the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The activities of the Frankfurt am Main Chamber of Commerce and Industry may serve as an example that to put principles into action takes also several years - may be even decades.

"Unternehmerische Verantwortung in globalen Zusammenhängen - Die UN-Leitprinzipien für Wirtschaft und Menschenrechte" - "Corporate responsibility in a global context - the UN Principles on Business and Human Rights". This topic attracted about one hundred business and other people to attend the event on Monday, 11 March 2019 at the Frankfurt am Main Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

We heard about the activities of the chamber and - as an example - of a big player in international business. Most impressive for me were the contributions of Sylvia Schenk. As lawyer she works in an international law firm and for Transparency International focusing on the realization of human rights in business. I understood her in the way that laws and regulations are one aspect. Important is to enter a dialogue with business and other people locally, to respect their cultures and ways of life and again and again to strive for the realization of human rights. This requires openness and endurance.

Laws and regulations run into danger to create bureaucracy. How can smaller companies cope with requests on the implementation of processes in Human Rights Due Diligence and the necessary monitoring and reports?

Keep cool and act step by step. The monthly journal IHK Wirtschaftsforum issue 03.2019 reports on several smaller companies and their approach. One focuses on staff, social activities and plastic, the other on ecological cacao-farming and fair payment of the farmers. A third founded a B2B paper online trading floor. 


don't be afraid of bureaucratic monsters

The Blog of July 14th, 2018 describes "How a good web application induces relaxed accounting and tax declarations". Today I want to introduce you to an example of the other extreme.

In Germany companies are obliged to pay for the packaging waste they put on the market. This is regulated by the Verpackungsgesetz. Packaging waste is a complex topic. To afford a fair handling companies must register on the online-platform Lucid and report the types and amount of the packaging waste they cause. For a small publishing house with an online ship like the Weidenborn Verlag it is pretty simple. A baker's ware business is already slightly more complex. See on https://oeffentliche-register.verpackungsregister.org/Manufacturer and ask for "Verlag" and for "Backwaren".

In the end it was pretty simple to fill in the forms on the online-platform and to hire a recycling service. But until you get an overview on the background and your obligations you have to read a lot and to visit many pages. Helpful was here - again - Frankfurt am Main Chamber of Commerce and Industry: Luise Riedel wrote a comprehensive introduction to the law and the necessary steps.

Last Monday I met several experts who support and companion smaller companies on their way to the realization of sustainability. A student asked a few days later:" Is it okay to look on the economical success and sustainability?" What do you think were the answers of his classmates?


the young generation and sustainability

"Do you take a car or use public transport … or a bicycle?"
"Are you aware, how much plastic you brought into this classroom, just fetching a few sandwiches, candies and soft-drinks?"

I object to the generalization that especially young people look on sustainability of a company. It depends. Some people do, some not - independent from their age.

Instead the roots lie in the context. Family, social peers, the company, where you work, and the school or university, you attend. So it is the task of those who consider sustainability as a core value, to introduce those, who are not yet aware, what they can do to take up responsibility.

For instance in the seminar Consulting: Let's look beyond economical success and experience the joy and effects of living sustainable. Socially, ecologically and - surprise - economically successful.

Christa Weßel - Saturday, 16 Mar 2019


Further Readings