Defining Sustainability

Categories: Sustainability & ESG

By Stephen P. Ashkin | August 15, 2022 << Back to Articles Defining Sustainability

Sustainability definitions are typically equal parts inspiration and aspiration. Examples include the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy, which stated, “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations,” or the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission, which defined sustainability in its report Our Common Future as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

But for the cleaning industry and other companies in the service sector, it may be important to define sustainability using more business-oriented terms—terms that connect the operational strategy and tactics directly to the long-term guiding framework of a business.

Identifying the business framework

Organizations have a choice of business frameworks they can adopt to help them compete and succeed.  At one end of the spectrum, opportunists (or even criminal enterprises) may utilize a framework focused on short-term transactional strategies. These companies focus solely on turning a quick profit as they make no attempt to build relationships with their customers, employees, or communities in which they operate. Once the transaction is completed, these companies move on to the next opportunity to make a buck.

At the other end of the spectrum are “generational companies” that use sustainability as their business strategy. These companies actually care about their long-term customers. They aim to create workplaces that inspire professional growth and retention among their employees, and they desire to improve the communities in which they operate.

Defining generational companies

The concept of a generational company evokes a family that creates a business with the specific intent of passing it on to their children. Generational can also apply to companies that have established brands that span generations (think Procter & Gamble’s Tide laundry detergent or Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex facial tissues) or those that desire to create such a brand.

Furthermore, the concept of a generational business framework applies to companies that are “mission-driven” with a specific intent to improve the lives of their employees, communities, and even the world—as well as make a profit. And beyond the corporate world, a generational business framework can apply to public institutions such as governments, schools, universities, and health care providers.

Adopting a sustainability framework

Whether a manufacturer, distributor, or service provider, every company in the cleaning industry should clearly define its guiding framework and, ultimately, the strategies and tactics that result. Although there is no right or wrong answer, it’s important to realize that the business framework you choose will have long-term effects on your company, employees, customers, and community.

Companies that want to remain in business for a long time must consider their impacts on future generations and include these concerns in their decision-making process. For them, sustainability is the right business framework now and going forward. 

For more from Steve Ashkin on defining sustainability, tune into this recent Straight Talk! interview. 

About the Author.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm working to “green” the cleaning industry, executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, a nonprofit organization working to accelerate the adoption of green cleaning by building owners and managers, and cofounder of Green Cleaning University. He can be reached at 812-332-7950.