Expert Q&A: Adam Garfunkel on sustainability

Expert Q&A: Adam Garfunkel on sustainability

We asked Adam Garfunkel, MD at consultancy Junxion, about the past, present and future of sustainability.

What does, and what should, sustainability mean for organisations today?

Sustainability is the capacity to endure. And for a business, that means the practice of working out how a company can make a net positive impact on people and the planet, as well as profits. By thinking about the so-called triple bottom line (the 3Ps – people, planet, profit), companies can manage risks, seize opportunities and contribute to improvements in people’s quality of life. It’s about resilience. If a company doesn’t do these things, then it risks being caught out by scarcity of resources, by not attracting the best people and, ultimately, by failing as a business.

Has the concept of sustainability changed over the years? Why might that be?

Yes, it has changed – because we realise the scale of the challenges the world faces, and because of the growing appreciation that our current economic and financial systems need to change. Climate change is already being felt across the world and this will get worse over the next 30 years. During that time the world’s population is set to increase from 7.4 billion to close to 10 billion. We are already experiencing extreme weather events and resource challenges such as record summer temperatures in India compromising cotton yields. More and more, our economic system – which fails to build in environmental ‘limits to growth’ – is seen as flawed. Sustainable business thinking is increasingly seen as a necessary approach to tackle these challenges.

What do organisations usually get right about sustainability, and what do they get wrong, or do badly?

Companies now tend to acknowledge that this area needs to be looked at. That much they get right. Increasingly, they know that they need to do more than just recycle the office waste paper. That’s a positive. They also know that this is important to more and more of their employees. Nearly half today’s workforce are millennials who want to work for a company that has strong values and a sense of social purpose. So they know they need to ‘do something’. But what many are missing at the moment is a sense of how to address ‘all that’ in a structured way that delivers results – again, for people, planet and profits.

What is the outlook for sustainability?

Well, it’s only going to become more important. The UN says that climate change will result in abrupt and irreversible consequences. As time marches on, we will feel the impacts of climate change more and more. And as companies such as Shell and others have pointed out, there is a nexus between energy, water and food. So, we don’t just face severe disruption, we will be facing more migration and even wars if people can’t get enough food and water to eat and drink. That’s pretty heavy stuff!

Can all organisations, large and small, truly afford to implement sustainability initiatives?

Any organisation can implement sustainability initiatives, yes. Scale is a factor, I acknowledge that. But a 20-person recruitment consultancy, for example, can think about its environmental footprint and take steps to reduce it. Or it can help sixth-formers with their CVs and help address youth unemployment. It can motivate its staff by explicitly stating its purpose is to help people progress on their careers, and help hiring companies to grow by filling their skill gaps with the best possible people. That’s a lot more motivating than getting staff to think ‘will this CV make me money’! And that will in turn lead to a more successful business.

Adam Garfunkel is managing director at the London office of Junxion Strategy, an international consultancy that works to catalyse progress on social and environmental sustainability. Junxion supports entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs with core services including strategy, branding, CSR and sustainability programming and reporting, leadership development and training.

Adam Garfunkel Managing Director Junxion Strategy
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