Will Your Company Still be Here in 1000 Years?

Climate change, social activism, empowered consumers, globalization – The world today presents a number of challenges to citizens and businesses alike.

For businesses many of these issues get bucketed under the umbrella of sustainability. And for good reason, corporate sustainability is all about thinking and planning for long term success. But what does long term success really mean, and what can it look like?

Let me introduce you to Kongo Gumi.

You’re probably thinking to yourself. Kongo what?

Kongo Gumi a Japanese construction company. They are headquartered in Osaka and specialize in the design and construction of Buddhist temples. Of the many projects they’ve worked on one of their most famous is the Osaka Castle.

But that’s not what makes them particularly special.

What DOES make Kongo Gumi of particular interest in a conversation about sustainability is the date they were founded…. 578 AD. No, I did not forget a number there. Kongo Gumi has been around for well over 1400 years! As such, they are the world’s oldest continually operating business.

From a sustainability or corporate sustainability perspective, I love to use the story of Kongo Gumi, and their longevity, as a way to frame the discussion. Has Kongo Gumi ever had to worry about the environment? Absolutely, as a construction company they’ve had to consider the impact of their business and the impact of the temples they build (many of which have become national treasures) for CENTURIES. They have had to ensure a steady supply of materials such as wood and resources like water for CENTURIES, and most importantly they’ve had to maintain a workforce and client base for over 1400 years. That’s a level of employee and customer loyalty that is absolutely mind boggling.

So when it comes to defining sustainability. Don’t just think in terms of individual projects or initiatives. Think in terms of this simple question – Will your company still be here in 1000 years?

What steps can and should businesses take to even begin to answer that question?

While by no means comprehensive, here are some issues to consider:

Employee Wellness, Health and Safety

The most important resource in any organization, no matter what industry or what size, is its employees and people. Some studies have shown that total workforce cost can make up as much as 70% of an organization’s operating cost. But even at levels far below that, with almost no exception, human capital is the most valuable resource that every company or organization has.

As such, maintaining the health, safety and productivity of a workforce should be a primary concern for every organization. But concern for worker health isn’t just a moral issue – it’s a financial one as well. In fact, the National Safety Council estimated that in 2011 the true costs of work-related injuries included an estimated $86.7 billion in wage and productivity losses and $34.2 billion in administrative expenses.

No company can hope to be around for 1000 years without employees. Making sure that the employees you have are happy and healthy should top your list of priorities to ensure your company longevity.

Environmental Impact

We all have to share this planet. From businesses to individuals, this is something we all have in common. That’s why ensuring that the impact we leave is reasonable is a major issue for all of us.

Key environmental issues affecting businesses can include industrial waste, sustainable development of raw materials and water and air emissions. These issues can have a particularly large effect on business because of the various laws and regulations surrounding them which can carry significant costs to uphold.

Aside from immediate costs though, if the resources your business needs will be depleted in part because of your environmental impact, then you’ll be cutting short the potential lifespan and longevity you have. That’s why many businesses undertake stricter changes in an effort to preserve the environment proactively. This can often be a boon to consumer good will and fuel growth in a consumer base motivated by an environmentally friendly policy.

Supply Chain

Will your supply chain be intact for the long haul of your business’ lifespan? Make sure your organization able to ensure resiliency in your supply of materials and goods to produce your products and services. You also need to be able to ensure adequate quality and consistency in your supply chain and suppliers. Once again, when you consider these issues under the umbrella of sustainability the way you define success and failure in this regard may change.

Product Quality

Product quality is all about meeting (or exceeding) a standard in your products that will delight your customers. That customer satisfaction is the foundation for loyalty and the ongoing success, longevity and sustainability of your business.

Unfortunately many companies set their own standards when they should be setting the standards that their customers want. That is what standards like ISO 9001 help businesses to address. ISO based quality management systems ensure that you use your customers’ standards for your own and design your business systems to meet and exceed them. When you do that you can create not only a highly profitable business, but one with the staying power of a base of loyal customers doing repeat business.

That’s just a small sampling of the complex set of moving pieces that need to be kept top of mind when businesses are considering sustainability and the strategies to drive it. But whenever you think sustainability, think Kong Gumi, and frame your discussions around this simple question – Will your business still be here in 1000 years?

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