Sustainability is the biggest CSR strategy that companies commonly adopt nowadays as consumers are being more conscious about it. However, a company will never be 100% sustainable for various reasons.
Trade-offs in the Triple Bottom Line Model
There is a misconception that sustainability is all about the environment. However, the sustainability of a company is actually measured using the Triple Bottom Line Model: Planet, People and Profits. Zara has pledged to use renewable energy in all its facilities and to completely eliminate landfill waste by 2025, it failed to mention about its sweatshop practices in its manufacturing where Zara outsources to factories in third world countries where the employees are severely underpaid and treated like slaves. It is true that Zara has fulfilled the two Ps (Planet and Profits) but failed miserably in fulfilling their obligation to the People. A lot of brands do this to greenwash its consumers—Highly advertising their sustainable practices to distract the audience from their unsustainable ones. At the same time, it is highly impossible for a company to fulfill all three Ps as there will always be trade-offs. For example, Zara would not be able to cut costs and earn profits if they did not outsource to cheaper manufacturers. Although it sounds really capitalistic and unpleasant, it is the reality every brand has to face.
There will always be unsustainable processes in a company’s supply chain
Many brands do their parts in the global sustainability efforts to the best of their abilities. For example, a Balinese brand called Palm sources its materials locally and ethically as well as trying as much as they can to use regenerated materials and consumer waste. Their products are also made to order, which means there will be no excess inventory that will turn into waste. Yes, this is definitely almost perfectly sustainable, but for them to expand they will have to export and it requires them to ship their products to countries like Australia. Shipping itself takes various means of transportation such as airplane and trucks which are damaging to the environment. Moreover, how would they know if all their suppliers are being sustainable. On top of that, how would the suppliers know if their suppliers are ethical. And the cycle goes on and on. Therefore, there is always unsustainable processes in the supply chain of a business.
A company may not be able to be fully sustainable. However, what a brand could do is to be conscious in their practices and minimise damage as much as possible.