Debunking the myth that sustainability adds costs.

Sustainability: Debunking the False Notion That It Adds Costs

What comes to mind when we hear the term “sustainability”?

Concept of eco friendly carSustainability is multifaceted and complex. It is wide in range, and its spectrum encompasses everything from modern slavery to energy efficiency. To many, when you ask them, “what is the first thing that pops into their head when you hear the word sustainability,” it usually isn’t the lack of potable water in a developing nation. No, images of green roofs, solar panels, electric cars, and eco-friendly products will most likely pop up.

Real sustainability issues pose a significant challenge for many individuals and organizations, prompting the misconception that it invariably adds costs.  This is also referred to as the “sustainability premium”. This is the belief that sustainability is expensive and hinders efforts to reduce the negative impact on the environment and society. In this post, I will prove that the perceived connection between sustainability and added costs is a misconception that needs to be debunked.

Sustainability and Profitability: A Conflict or a Myth?

Sustainability is swiftly turning into a game-changer in the business world. As stakeholder expectations grow, rules tighten, and value shifts towards sustainable markets, it’s clear that businesses need to adapt. While some executives recognize sustainability as a driver for business transformation, they often view it as a threat to profitability. This mindset leads to a focus on short-term financial results rather than long-term sustainable growth.

This view creates hurdles in integrating environmental and social impact into business decisions. As a result, sustainability is often tacked on instead of being woven into the organization’s fabric. But is it true that chasing sustainability means giving up profitability? Or is this just a myth? Do leaders really need to toss out the traditional business model to make sustainability a viable strategy?

The Relationship Between Sustainability and Profitability

Money in the bank

The truth is, profitability and sustainability aren’t as opposed as they seem. In fact, evidence shows that sustainable practices can boost a company’s long-term financial health. By embracing sustainability, companies can become more efficient, use fewer resources, and spur innovation, giving them an edge in sustainable markets.

Instead of discarding the traditional business model, leaders can evolve it to include sustainability. By changing how they measure success, they can weave environmental and social impact into their key performance indicators and business goals. This shift aligns the pursuit of profits with responsible, sustainable practices.

Integrating Sustainability into Business Strategy

To do this, companies need to stop seeing sustainability as a separate initiative. Instead, they should embed it deeply within their culture and strategy. Leaders need to understand that sustainability isn’t just a box to tick to please stakeholders. It’s a crucial part of a resilient, forward-thinking business model.

By integrating sustainability in a meaningful, systematic way, companies can create long-term value and strengthen their position in a growing sustainability-focused market. This requires a change in mindset, a commitment to transparency, and collaboration with stakeholders at all levels.

The Role of CEOs in Sustainability Transformation

Business leaders around the globe now accept that sustainability isn’t optional—it’s essential. A staggering 98% of CEOs now see their role in steering their businesses towards greater sustainability, up from 83% ten years ago.

However, many executives worry that pursuing sustainability could harm profitability. According to a previous study by Accenture, 58% of the 1,496 executives surveyed believe sustainability conflicts with growth.

Sustainability Transformation: Real Obstacles or Perceived Myths?

But is this worry founded, or is it a misconception? Despite the common belief in a trade-off, many companies are embracing sustainability without sacrificing profits. Current trends show that 63% of CEOs are launching new sustainable products and services, and 43% are moving towards circular business models.

Some industries, like automotive, have made strides responding to stricter regulations and government incentives. But overall, adoption of sustainable business models isn’t keeping pace with what the world needs or what stakeholders demand. For instance, the NYU Stern Sustainable Market Share Index™ reports that products marketed as sustainable grew 7.3% from 2015 to 2021, compared to 2.8% for other products. Yet, sustainable products still make up only 17% of the total market.

The conversation about the challenges of sustainability transformation raises the question: are these obstacles real or just perceived myths? Future leaders often worry about the costs, complexity, impracticality, unreliability, and slowness of becoming a sustainable business. However, closer examination and testing with 280 senior business executives reveal that cost and complexity are more linked to standard business practices, making them favorable winds for sustainable transformation.

In Summary

The idea that profitability and sustainability are at odds is a myth. Companies can align their financial success with their sustainable impact by adopting responsible practices, making sustainability a core part of their strategy, and seizing opportunities in a world where sustainability is a driving force for change. By doing this, businesses can succeed today and build a better future for everyone.


Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

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