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What is sustainable business?

Sustainable business, Corporate Social Responsibility and ethical business

Sustainable Business is another way of referring to, and talking about, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). But whether you call it Ethical Business, Corporate Social Responsibility or Sustainable Business, you're talking about the same thing.

All of these terms refer to systems and strategies for businesses to operate in a responsible manner that benefits their people, communities and environment.

Is there a difference?

Different countries, industries and government departments approach ethical business drives from slightly different angles. So let's look at the subtle differences between Ethical Business, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Business.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

CSR is the process of assessing an organisation's impact on society and evaluating their responsibilities. Read our What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)? page.

Ethical Business

When businesses focus on their code of ethics or a code of conduct they may label their approach 'Ethical Business'. Ethical Businesses often emphasise:

  • The source of products and services
  • Business conduct
  • Quality and service standards

Consumer-led organisations often adopt an Ethical Business plan in order to demonstrate and reassure customers of their ethical credentials. But it is equally important that those businesses also assess and report on all areas of their business activity, including social, economic and environmental impacts.

Sustainable Business

Sustainable Business essentially means being able to continue, or operating in a way that is conducive to ongoing trading.

Sustainable Business is an important concept because it recognises the importance of businesses continuing, particularly in respect of providing jobs and custom for suppliers.

Recently, Sustainable Business has expanded to become a more holistic view of business activity - reporting on impacts to people, the planet and profit. People, planet, profit is also known as the Triple Bottom Line.

The Small Business Need for CSR

Accounting for the Triple Bottom Line is known as full cost accounting - something that many large corporations are committing to. When larger corporations examine their social responsibility, they assess their supply chain, because to be truly accountable they need to understand the impacts that their suppliers have on their people, environment and communities.

Therefore it is increasingly important for small to medium-sized businesses to demonstrate a commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Business, particularly when trying to secure contracts.