Gail Whiteman: Speak business language to create sustainability

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Being sustainable is no longer a buzzword, it’s a necessity. Making a company sustainable helps preserve the environment by staving off climate change and conserving limited natural resources. It can also enhance the competitiveness and reputation of your business. But how can business align very specific and KPIs set-in-stone, or fixed weekly, daily or even hourly targets on the workfloor? Can they be reconciled with the vague concept of sustainability? Can they be interpreted in different ways to suit different agendas? Or is it perhaps that they will only be effective in the long term? 

“If we want business to react to climate change we have to put numbers behind it.”

RSM’s Professor of Sustainability, Management and Climate Change Gail Whiteman’s answer is: speak boardroom language when addressing businesses about sustainability. Climate change is a matter of strategy for companies for many reasons. But as long as climate change experts and business leaders don’t speak the same language, they won’t move in the same direction, or be able to move together to create change. But this change can start right where business executives start off: in business school. Prof. Whiteman wants to help students realise that sustainability is the foundation of business.

Whiteman is co-founder and Director of ERIM's Centre for Corporate Eco-Transformation, where she collaborates with multinational companies, to examine issues such as the strategic role of companies in their transition towards low carbon, sustainable cities; the impact of natural resource extraction on local sustainability; and the drivers of sustainable innovation.

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