Sustainability initiatives are the policies and procedures a company adopts to demonstrate a commitment to environmentally-friendly practices. The initiatives typically involve the energy, raw materials, transportation, retail, and information technology sectors. Sustainability in a business context tends to fall under the corporate social responsibility umbrella. It is the type of initiative that gains traction to the extent that a corporation believes that consumers care about the corporation's stance on the issue.
The scientific notion of the decreasing ecological viability of the Earth due to greenhouse gases and other environmental impacts, known as global warming, has been the traditional impetus for sustainability initiatives. Prior to the late-2000s, the popular opinion was that global warming was something of a fabrication of rabid environmentalists. In the last part of the decade, however, a confluence of movie-making on the issue, championing by famous people, a Nobel prize given because of issue awareness, and social media movements pulled the issue into the mainstream consciousness in a positive way.
Government policy in many countries changed to reflect this new awareness of its constituencies. Energy efficiency standards, recycling, emissions control, conservation, innovations in mass transit, and the development of new sources of power became hot topics for government regulation and development. Governments put pressure on corporations across sectors to adopt these new concerns and fold them into their production and supply chains. Changing the way a company does business is an expensive proposition, however, and requires proof that it will result in a profitable gain.
Sustainability initiatives are changes to business practices that a company adopts to decrease its negative impact on the environment. The hallmark of this type of initiative is a change that demonstrates the company's concern for the protection of today's environment for future generations. For example, an electronics company may decrease the overall amount of packaging it uses and change to recyclable materials to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. It may also institute a system to accept obsolete electronics from customers, undertaking the responsibility and cost to properly dispose of the items to prevent the pollution of landfills.
The bottom line for corporate sustainability initiatives is the ability to be environmentally-friendly while still making profits. Consequently, the ultimate impetus behind many such initiatives is the company's belief that the changes made matter to the consumer. Consumers often applaud sustainable initiatives and support them with their wallets, but only to the extent that they are not terribly inconvenienced, can afford the luxury of a more expensive option, and feel that the sustainable choice is the functional equivalent of the less sustainable option. An example of this conundrum is the slow adoption of smaller, fuel efficient cars in the U.S., where consumer polls seem to indicate a favorable opinion of such cars but actual purchases tend to belie that stance.