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The activities over which a company exercises control or influence– its direct operations–offer the most immediate opportunities for improving corporate sustainability performance. While the range of operational activities differs depending on the nature of the company’s business or sector, it generally includes not just the company’s traditional core operations but also value chain partners such as joint ventures and franchises.
The business case for action on the environmental impacts of direct operations is straightforward. Energy efficiency, for example, is the prime way to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in operations. Implementing energy efficiency measures offers a clear return on investment both for businesses and homes. A McKinsey study found that the United States could save $1.2 trillion through 2020, and reduce energy consumption by 23% by investing $520 billion in energy efficiency measures. Nearly two-thirds of these savings would be attributable to businesses alone.
It is important to pay attention to the social impacts of operations if overall sustainability commitments are to be achieved, and doing so can result in concrete bottom line results. Companies that establish strong social policies, commit to fair and safe working conditions and invest in employee training and development tend to see measurable improvements in worker safety, satisfaction and productivity. A demonstrated commitment to human rights, diversity and equality in the workplace also enhances recruitment and retention, and lays the groundwork for the achievement of broader sustainability and performance goals. For example, as a media and entertainment company, Time Warner’s cultivation of the diversity of its people, content and products, is a business imperative. It is achieved by auditing the breadth and diversity of their content, analyzing the appeal of content to new and emerging audiences, and developing diverse talent. These efforts are designed to foster market leadership and grow their overall media business and multicultural audience appeal.
This section considers these and other opportunities for companies to enhance sustainability across their operations, including building and facilities management, water management, the elimination of waste and respect for human rights.