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The concept of sustainability— meeting today’s needs without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs (1) — is penetrating board rooms across multiple industries. (2)

 It is now discussed in leading business journals, like the Harvard Business Review and the MIT Sloan Management Review, as a major driver of business innovation and competitive advantage. (3) It is increasingly influencing business value and business decisions. (4)
Sustainability directors want to demonstrate to colleagues, customers, and suppliers that environmental challenges are not removed from core business interests.
Sustainability directors from companies across multiple sectors have told WRI they are looking for a way to communicate and collaborate with others on environmental challenges. They want to demonstrate to colleagues, customers, and suppliers that environmental challenges are not removed from core business interests. They need a means of drawing connections to the other trends (for example, economic or demographic changes) that business unit managers, senior executives, or boards of directors are more familiar with.

Sustainability connects long-term environmental and social challenges with economic priorities (for the purposes of this guide, the emphasis is on environmental challenges). Companies can look at these connections for important business risks as well as opportunities to provide new solutions (see Box 1).

Consider the big trends— “megatrends” or “metatrends”— that are transforming markets and creating new ways to meet customers’ future needs. Populations are growing and flocking to cities. By 2030, urban areas will be home to more than a billion additional people. In that time, there are projected to be two billion new middle class consumers, along with billions more low-income consumers, in growing markets around the world. Meanwhile, today’s technologies are creating new opportunities. Take the rapid growth in information, computing and mobile communication technologies. These and other innovations create new possibilities for disruptive business models, strategies, and partnerships.

Corporate sustainability champions are looking for ways to act on these changes. They are finding ways to change internal operations and processes to address environmental challenges, minimize costs, and improve productivity. They are seeking opportunities to generate new revenue with products and services that create or use cleaner energy and safer materials, and conserve natural resources. They are collaborating with others to preserve and create business value (see Box 2). They have helped WRI create a practical and compelling framework to translate environmental challenges into risks or opportunities that their company can act on.