It’s a FACT! The number one concern for every student is securing a job after graduation. With all the doom and gloom stories about the (un)availability of jobs, graduates can often feel hopeless. There is however, an emerging sector that has the potential to quell these fears. The Sustainability sector in the UK has shown tremendous growth despite the recent economic downturn. It currently employs close to 1 million people across a wide range of industries with a scope to employ a further 400,000 individuals by 2020. In fact, the Confederation of British Industries predicts that this sector could potentially halve the UK’s financial deficit by the end of this financial year. With this in mind, what is sustainability and why should you be interested?
The term “Sustainability” is a spin-off of Sustainable development which was first defined in 1987 by Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland and her team as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainability is about creating a world in which a healthy environment, economic prosperity and social justice are pursued simultaneously to ensure the well-being and quality of life of present and future generations. As the definition implies, sustainability goes beyond environmental issues. In fact, we can think of it being formed of three pillars: environment, economy and social justice (ethics) (See Figure 1). Sustainability is that sweet spot where all the three coincide; almost like a utopia! .
In the early days, sustainability was a cause defended by environmentalists and of concern to a small population. However, in recent times, businesses and organisations have begun to promote sustainability and embed it within their organisations. In fact, some have gone as far as using sustainability to distinguish themselves in the world market. One such company is Unilever. Since the launch of its Sustainable Living Plan in 2010, Unilever has been recognised as a world leader in sustainability and ranked highly for its efforts by experts. Unilever’s Sustainable Living plan aims to:
- Improve health and wellbeing
- Reduce environmental impact
- Enhance livelihoods
To do this, they look very closely at every aspect of their business; for example product design, business practice, and community engagement. Of course, the changes they make are not to the detriment of the company’s profits. In fact, within Unilever’s vision (represented by the graph in Figure 2), they plan to double their profits.
An educated, committed workforce is vital to Unilever’s success. The staff at Unilever are not all sustainability experts by profession. However, a majority of them must know enough to understand how they can make a contribution through their work.
“The Plan is helping to drive profitable growth for our brands, save costs and fuel innovation.” Unilever
Sustainability is not just a marketing tool. Businesses that apply and incorporate sustainable practices can address and potentially reduce financial challenges they face. The National Health Service (NHS) is an organisation that would likely benefit from sustainable practices. Government officials suggest that in order to address the financial challenges within the NHS, some Accident and Emergency Units should close. However, this proposal is unacceptable in the eyes of some members of the community and in particular, vulnerable patients who regularly use the service. Both parties would be pleased to know that there is a way to save money, keep the units open, and improve patient care. This is where sustainability comes into the picture. A very good example of this is the Barts Health NHS Trust. Barts Health NHS Trust saved £100,000 through a pilot project that showed staff the link between patient care and comfort, and energy efficiency.  Staff were asked to take simple steps such as shutting the doors and switching off unused equipment. In the wards where the pilot took place, patients’ wellbeing and comfort were much better than in non-pilot wards. Estimates suggest that if the Trust rolls out this scheme across its sites, it could save a further £400,000 which would give the Trust a much needed financial boost. 
“For the health and care system, a large sweet spot exists where environmental and financial sustainability coincide” Dr Pencheon
Sustainability: What’s in it for you?
Having an understanding of what sustainability is, and how it is linked to your chosen career can help open doors for you and make you stand out amongst your peers. (Remember, the industry is expected to grow significantly by 2020). Here at City University London, we offer you the opportunity to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills to become a Sustainability Leader.
Our Sustainablity Leaders are helping us pave the way towards becoming a more sustainable university:
- By coming up with innovative solutions and projects that address various sustainability challenges (Green Dragons)
- Or taking part in existing sustainability initiatives and projects at City (Green Impact)
For more information, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Barts Health (2013) Ground breaking behavioural techniques forecast to save the NHS’s largest trust £400,000 over the next year
Brundtland, G. H., (1987) Our Common Future
Confederation of British Industry (2012)The Colour of Growth: Maximising the potential of Green Business
Institute for International Urban Development (2011) Sustainable Development vs. Sustainability
Pencheon, D., (2014) Sustainable healthcare: the NHS launches a new strategy (The Guardian)
Unilever (2014) Sustainable Living Plan
Unilever (2012) Sustainable Living Plan Progress Report